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Powell Valley students design benches and Fortis Construction make their visions a reality

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Powell Valley Elementary School fourth-grader Kayne Diaz and Avery celebrate the unveiling of the bench they designed. Some fourth grade students at Powell Valley Elementary School waited anxiously one recent morning for the unveiling of four benches they had designed but had yet to see built.

The moment finally arrived Thursday, June 6, and Dave Salisbury, Fortis Construction superintendent for the Gresham High School construction project, called up the pint-sized design teams and helped the students pull the covers off the benches, one-by-one, to great applause and whoops of delight.

Kayne Diaz, a designer of one of the benches and proud Powell Valley Panther, said "I learned a lot about design. It takes a long time."

COURTESY PHOTO: GRESHAM-BARLOW SCHOOL DISTRICT  - The students in Doug Robertsons class work ing on their bench designs.He thought the project was "awesome" but it did not inspire him to want to be a designer or construction worker, he plans to become a professional athlete.

The benches are part of a pilot project the Gresham-Barlow School District started this spring to team up students with the construction companies building new or remodeling Gresham schools. Students at elementary, middle and high schools were involved.

"The program has two stated objectives: to allow teachers and industry partners to integrate career exposure into academic programming, and to establish mutually beneficial partnerships between education and industry, which together build workforce development opportunities," the district said of the program.

Doug Robertson, the fourth-grade teacher at Powell Valley on the project, said the students did most of the design with paper and pencil, but also used Tinkercad, a free, app for 3D design, electronics and coding.

Real world

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Powell Valley students check out one of the new benches. "I had high hopes for the project, but it exceeded my expectations," Robertson said. "It helps the kids see the real world applications of what they're learning."

Robertson said this wasn't new for his students. "Building and project learning are a big part of our classroom. One of the first things we do in the school year is build towers out of marshmallows and (uncooked) spaghetti."

Robertson said the Fortis staff was wary about the difficulty of the bench design project.

"They thought it was too ambitions for a bunch of 10-year-olds. But I said let's go for it. If it doesn't work, they'll learn a whole lot on the way to crashing and burning."

But work out it did.

The wooden benches are handsome and solid. One bench featured pointy panther ears and others curvy panther paws to honor the school's mascot.

Some of the kids' more fanciful ideas — like a long panther tail on one bench — were scrapped because they would have been too difficult to construct. But the fourth-graders seemed to take those disappointments in stride.

Students presented their ideas to Fortis and others in April and the benches were unveiled Thursday, June 6.

Pitch meeting

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Kayne Diaz is proud of the bench he and Avery created. Eleven design teams competed in the April "pitch" meeting and the Fortis staff chose four to build.

"These kids had to go up and present their ideas in front of all these professionals. That was amazing," Roberts said.

The students learned math, design, public speaking, problem solving and more, Robertston said.

Students at Gordon Russell Middle School worked with Fortis to model and design a house. Marketing students from Barlow High School visited Lease Crutcher Lewis in Portland and designed storefronts for businesses and Barlow construction students toured the Barlow construction site several times and helped pour concrete.

The Gresham-Barlow School District is in the middle of a construction program, paid for by a $291.2 million bond voters approved in November of 2016.

The construction has put several major construction and architecture firms, dozens of subcontractors and hundreds of construction workers on Gresham-Barlow campuses and the district seized on this as a teachable moment.

Robertson said the bench project with the Fortis construction teams will stick with his students.

"I think it's going to pay off for them in their education careers and in life."

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