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Pine Ridge Elementary STEM students provide
officials with solid solutions to sidewalk issues
By Mike Corradino
Have a problem? Give it to a third or fourth grade student to solve. That's what the teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary School did recently using problem solving skills to find a solution to safety concerns and got positive results.

The school made the news recently when students brought attention to the difficulty of walking or biking to the elementary school on CR 561 just south of Log House and Pine Island Roads. There are no sidewalks, few flat surfaces, heavy auto traffic and a 55 mile per hour speed limit.

The third and fourth grade classes used skills from the STEM program, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes. They broke up into five disciplines, statistics, environmental, engineering, architecture and financial.

Each group tackled their respective area breaking down the problem into specific areas and then learning to understand the issues and provide solutions. They did so effectively that local government officials and business leaders praised them for the thoroughness and completeness of their solutions.

The statisticians broke down the number of students, traffic patterns, car counts and other numbers that related to the problem. To get those numbers they did extensive research and contacted agencies with official counts.

The environmental group looked at the impact of cars on the road, pollution, use of fuels and air quality. The engineering students went to work on suggestions such as a traffic light at Pine Island and 561, moving the school warning lights further from the school to give motorists time to respond, planning the sidewalks and grades to make walking access safe.

The architectural group built models to demonstrate the solutions showing where and how walkways would help, suggesting a gate at the back of the school so walkers could get to class through the adjacent community instead of from 561.

Finally the financial group presented their figures to show how much the projects would cost based on different areas and aspects of the solution and then presented a total cost. To get their numbers the students actually got bids and costs estimates from contractors.

Their meeting was one of several where the students tried to get their message to the community about the safety issues and their solutions. Mike Wood of the Lake Sumter Metropolitan Planning organization recently heard their pleas and explained it would take five to ten years to make it happen.

But at Friday's meeting, County Commissioner Sean Parks told the students they had been heard and based on their efforts the county is proposing to use a portion of the one cent sales tax to make the project happen in as little as two years.

"This is a great day," claimed Parks.

County Commissioner Tim Sullivan explained how the penny tax works and that it was not a done deal, but a very strong possibility. "Your exercise is what we do everyday," explained Sullivan. He added there is a potential of $12 million that could come from the tax and some of that money could go toward the project.

School Board Member Marc Dodd told the students, "You have taken your schools to a new level. You have done an incredible job."

Shannon Hidalgo of the South Lake Chamber Sports and Tourism committee told the students, "You are so bold and so brave. We're so proud of you."

Guiding the students throughout the project, but letting them discover their own solutions were teachers Whitney Kreiling, Chelsea Gismonde, Jenny Carlson and Amy Weber.

Parks said afterward the county needs to keep the students engaged so the project continues to move forward and they learn from the exercise.

Pine Ridge
The teachers who taught the students the lessons they needed to pursue their project are (left) Chelsea Gismonde, Jenny Carlson, Whitney Kreiling and Amy Wheeler. The third and fourth grade teachers provided the STEM skills needed for the problem solving. (Photo by Mike Corradino)
Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge
Students from the architectural group used models to demonstrate their solutions. County Commissioners Tim Sullivan, Sean Parks and School Board member Marc Dodd listen to a student present his ideas on the problem. LiveWell's Kim Couch looks on as a student explains the finer points of the site model they built to help resolve the sidewalk safety issue. (Photos by Mike Corradino)
Students built a site model of the area to help demonstrate their solutions to the problem of no sidewalks or bike paths to Pine Ridge Elementary School. (Photo by Mike Corradino)
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