Bishop Connolly students shape their own school grounds with civil engineering project
FALL RIVER — Students at Bishop Connolly High School got a unique experience that could leave a mark on their school for years to come: designing an update to an area on the school grounds through a civil engineering project that might actually be used at the school.
“It has just surpassed any expectations I had. And I had high hopes for this project,” said Ellen Russell, the school’s director for STEM education.
Educators at the school wanted to give students a chance to explore civil engineering in a realistic way, and specifically wanted to involve the school’s own grounds in the project.
So, students were tasked with creating a plan for on a triangle of land near the main entrance that features a statue of the Virgin Mary. The area is near a wetland and is usually plagued with lingering puddles after rains, Russell explained.
About 140 students, the entirety of the school’s freshman, sophomore and junior classes, participated in the project.
Students were divided into four groups, each of which were tasked with coming up with designs to address three aspects of the area in question. In each group, one section designed a space for prayer and reflection to complement the statue of Mary, another section designed a garden specifically meant to foster local wildlife and another presented solutions to the water management issue. Each group was instructed to include memorial bricks from Fall River’s Notre Dame de Lourdes School, which closed for good in 2008.
Over the course of four days this week, students studied the area and worked on their designs, with help from two engineering professors from UMass Dartmouth and other experts including a civil engineering consultant and a representative from the state’s division of wetlands and waterways.
Students got feedback from school leaders, the project’s “clients,” then presented their final designs on Thursday.
School leaders intend to ultimately choose one of the four designs and bring it to life, although that could take several years.
Don Foster, an engineering professor at UMass who volunteered with the project, said the students had to consider all details of developing a project like this one, like creating a budget and presenting their design in a cohesive way.
“It’s a wonderful blend of the technical aspects and some more colorful, creative parts,” he said.
Nicolas Silva, a junior, was in a group that created a design for the prayer space. They opted for a design that included mostly purple flowers to create a calming effect, solar powered bird feeds and lights and a semi-circle wall behind the state to highlight the bricks from Notre Dame.
“In my years here, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “This is an amazing opportunity because this is something that can actually come into fruition.”