Wednesday, June 28, 2017

‘Wall of Awesomeness’ Unveiled at Ridgecrest Elementary

If you really want to get engineers and architects and builders engaged in a project, mention that it involves Legos.

Certainly those professionals take their paying jobs seriously – no doubt they do, or buildings would be falling down all around us. But add Legos and, well …

“I played with Legos when I was a kid,” said Alan Johnston, CEO of Johnston LLC. “That’s why I became an engineer.”
Alan Johnston of Johnston LLC speaks at the unveiling of Ridgecrest Elementary’s ‘Wall of Awesomeness’.
Alan Johnston and Johnston LLC helped design a Lego wall in the makerspace in the Ridgecrest Elementary library, one built with the input and vision of a team of Ridgecrest students and help not only from Johnston but from Jamail & Smith Construction and Edco Builders.

The 8x12 interactive “Wall of Awesomeness” was unveiled Thursday, June 1, and represents the major environments of Earth – oceans, deserts, mountains, plains – and space. Ridgecrest students chose the name in a schoolwide vote.

Garay said the makerspace area and the Wall of Awesomeness offer a respite for Ridgecrest students.

“Our students will have a place to break from their work and assessments,” said Ridgecrest librarian Lori Garay and echoed by Principal Michelle Garcia.

“A lot is expected (academically) of our kids,” said Garcia. “This is something of a release for them, but they’re still learning.”

There was no lack of enthusiasm Thursday as the wall was unveiled before the student design team, whose joy couldn’t be hidden and whose eagerness to play at the wall couldn’t be denied.

Miguel, a fifth-grader who helped envision the wall, said that he appreciates all the help and that he liked seeing what engineers and architects do because he too wants to become an engineer.

“(The wall) was fun … not only to imagine but also making it real,” he said.

“(Miguel) asked so many questions,” said Garay. “I was so proud.”

Miguel will have to come back and visit the wall– he’ll be moving on to sixth grade and middle school in the fall.

Miguel was one of a dozen or so Ridgecrest students who welcomed visitors to the school’s library with a handshake and a thank-you-for-coming-today greeting.

The wall started with a grant application from Lowe’s, the building supply store, that landed on Garcia’s desk and that she passed along to Garay. Garay applied and got a $2,000 grant.

She had seen a Lego wall before and asked Travis Sanford, SBISD director of planning, if something like that could be done at Ridgecrest. (“He’s a Lego guy,” said a grinning Garay to a nodding Sanford.) She envisioned a wall where students could display creations and inventions from the Makerspace, where she spurs student interest in designing and building, architecture and engineering.

Sanford was convinced and contacted Johnston and Brent Doucette of Jamail & Smith from the Ridgecrest parking lot after the meeting with Garay, telling each that he had a special project for them. It apparently took little convincing. The project was in motion.

Johnston’s company began researching how to build with Legos and held a visioning session with a team of Ridgecrest students. Those students came up with the earth and space theme for the wall.

“I don’t think Johnston has had more fun (on a project) in a long time,” said Alan Johnston.

Certain size and color Legos not available in the U.S. had to be ordered from Denmark. Some specialty pieces are from another plastic brick company, Strictly Briks.

The pieces were put together by Danny Durbin of EDCO Builders, who also built the frame containing the wall.

Garay told those gathered at the unveiling and ribbon cutting ceremony that the project incorporated all of SBISD’s core values – Every Child, Collaborative Spirit, Collective Greatness, Limitless Curiosity and Moral Compass.

Johnston LLC and Jamail & Smith supplied not only talent and labor but also materials and construction costs. The original grant money was used to purchase the Legos needed for both the wall and the space.

by Rusty Graham


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