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Timing is everything for St. John Paul II STEM summer camp

Bridges — both the literal and symbolic variety — highlighted activities of the first summer-school function at the new St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson, set to open this summer.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, Academy hosted the first day of its four-day educational camp Tuesday on its campus, located at 465 E. Olive Ave. in Burbank.

St. John Paul II is a co-educational Roman Catholic STEM school that takes the place of recently-shuttered Bell-Jeff and is scheduled to open Aug. 13, one day after Burbank Unified kicks off its 2019-20 school year.

The timing of the first day, along with this week’s camp, were key to the school’s founding director, Jeff Hilger.

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“We decided to do this camp on the week that only Burbank schools were off,” Hilger said. “Glendale and L.A. [Unified school districts] and all the other schools are still in session, so we’re trying to interest some of the bored Burbank Unified kids.”

The first day of St. John Paul’s community introduction featured two activities, a design challenge in the afternoon following a bridge-building activity in the morning.

Instructors from Pasadena-based STEM World led the first event.

Teams of three students were provided a set of 150 wooden Popsicle sticks and wood glue and given a little more than two hours to construct a bridge.

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Once time was up, each entry was tested by hanging a bucket from the center of the bridge and slowly filling it with water.

The top three load-bearing projects were awarded prizes.

Twenty-nine students divided into nine teams, with about half hailing from nearby St. Robert Bellarmine School, competed.

The squad of Hayk Tadevosyan from Muir Middle School, William Roberts from Jordan Middle School and home-schooler Kai Goodsell, nicknamed Team Triangles, won the contest.

“It was really tense,” Goodsell said. “I didn’t know how long the bridge could last.”

Their bridge withstood 9 liters of water, or just about 20 pounds, before snapping in half.

“During the first part, I was scared that we weren’t going to beat any of the teams and I was like ‘oh no,’” Roberts said. “I didn’t think we were going to win until we barreled through everything.”

Tadevosyan added, “I was really surprised because I didn’t think [the bridge] would be sturdy enough. We used triangles on the sides to support the weight and it worked.”

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The bridges ranged in strength from Team Triangles’ near 20 pounds of water to two bridges that crumbled from just the weight of an empty bucket.

Josue Hernandez, STEM World’s curriculum director, said the contest provided a fun lesson about STEM disciplines, such as math, engineering and physics.

“That’s the point of this instruction, to incorporate several different interconnected curriculum,” Hernandez said. “We even add art sometimes.”

Other activities this week will include an informational session with representatives from Woodbury University, a tour and lunch at Shake Shack and a water slide challenge on Wednesday, a robotics competition and lesson about debris on Thursday and a field trip to a surprise location on Friday.

“We have a lot going on in our itinerary,” said Gloria Rivera, St. John Paul II’s administrative and academic counselor.

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