Students at South Jefferson Elementary School toss pumpkins, pick up new ideas
MORGANTOWN – Peggy Grantham has her students making things with eggs, spaghetti, marshmallows and pumpkins, but this is no home ec class.
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Instead, supermarket items allow the longtime South Jefferson Elementary School teacher to help Engineering Club members find the recipe for success.
Fourth- and fifth-graders meet after school to design containers to protect eggs dropped from heights, build bridges made from pasta, send marshmallows flying from blasters and take on other unusual projects.
“It pushes your skills to the limit,” explains fifth-grader Bryce Holben, who, along with other club members, traveled to Morgantown last week for the club’s biggest event of the year – the annual Pumpkin Drop sponsored by West Virginia University’s engineering school.
Youngsters from across West Virginia and Pennsylvania spent Friday testing out containers they’d assembled to protect pumpkins sent flying off the top of WVU’s 11-story Engineering Sciences Building.
The winners are pumpkins that land intact close to a target and feature the best design.
Each year, WVU earmarks proceeds from the contest for the Ronald McDonald House.
Grantham, who has spent 25 years at South Jefferson and also oversees her school’s Math Field Day team, started the Engineering Club because of WVU’s pumpkin contest, now in its 25th year.
Grantham learned of the competition when one of her sons was studying engineering at WVU, she said.
“I was walking down the hall and just got the idea, ‘What can I do for the math and science kids who aren’t necessarily competitors [in Math Field Day]?’” she said. “‘I know what I’ll do – I’ll start a club, and we’ll go to the pumpkin drop.’”
Engineering Club members attend a half-dozen sessions each spring and then in the fall, the Engineering Club continues to meet regularly, mostly focusing on the pumpkin drop.
Grantham’s son, James, comes to an initial session to give club members an introduction to the field of engineering. Grantham has a second son who also is an engineer while her other two offspring have chosen careers in farming and teaching.
Grants, the school’s PTO and other funding make the club possible, Grantham said, and also cover the cost of the trip to Morgantown so that the students involved can attend at no cost.
This year, the club not only competed at WVU but got to tour the Coliseum and football stadium and enjoy lunch in the Mountainlair. “It was really a great experience,” said Jennifer Holben, Bryce’s mother. “They go so far beyond. South Jefferson – an amazing school.”
Grantham feels happy to boost interest in the field of engineering, but said it’s just as rewarding to see students realize they love to learn.
“I have seen attitudes about school change,” she said.