Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bridges of Destruction

It started on a Wednesday with popsicle sticks and glue.  

I'm at the weekly academy meeting.  One of the joys of working in education is the meetings: there are meetings for professional development, PLC meetings, WASC meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, parent meetings, student meetings, blood-pathology/sexual harassment meetings.    This does not count all the IEP meetings, parent conferences, or the joy of attending "optional" bonus meetings if you belong to the student council or are lucky enough to run a department.  

At the weekly academy meeting I  sit back and crack jokes in an attempt to divert the meeting off topic on absurd tangents.

The academy lead, Busamante, reigns me in.

We all have to do our part.  

"Some of our students our building bridges out of popsicle sticks and glue with Barragan." Bustamante begins.  "We want to do a contest in front of the auditorium, with the best bridge the one that can hold the most weight before it breaks.  Does anyone have any ideas how to promote it?'

"Bridges of DESTRUCTION!"  I crack.

Bustamante nods in appreciation.  "I like it."

"I'd go see that."  Andres adds.

"Good.  Leiken, you're in charge of promoting the contest."

Damn it!  I hate responsibility.  "Are you sure?" I ask, grumbling.  

"Yes, type something up and I'll get Angulo to approve it for the announcements."

The announcements at South East are a powerful sedative.   "Only if I get to read them."

Bustamante looks offended.  "As if anyone else would do it."

 I enlist Mr. C.  and we rehearse, mimicking a monster truck rally.  One of the special ed teachers looks annoyed.   "I hope you guys know that you aren't that funny.  No one is going to listen to it."

I shrug.  Everyone's a critic.

The next day Bustamante hands me back the one sheet with the Principal's approval, his signature on the bottom of the sheet.  "What did Angulo say?" I ask, slightly surprised.

"He just shook his head."  Bustamante smiles.  "Remember, read it with pathos."

Now it is my turn to look offended.  "As if I would I read it any other way."

The next day Mr. C and I walk into the main office and patiently await for the students to read through the announcements.  The announcements are drier then death valley and flatter then Kansas, but its not the students fault, they are just reading from a bulletin, but I'm not sure anyone in the school is listening.    

A student finishes and hands me the phone.  I hold the receiver a foot away from my mouth as Mr. C positions himself by my side.  

"BRIDGES OF DESTRUCTION!" I intone in my best announcer voice.

"Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday.  March 10th!"   Mr. C cries out as his voice reverberates throughout the school.

"See a one pound bridge made of popsicle sticks and glue hold several hundred pounds of weight!"

"THEN SEE IT, DESTROYED!" we cry out in unison.

"This is not your parents bridge building contest!"

"Tuesday, March 10th, in front of the auditorium.  Be there or be square!"


I end the announcement in a whisper, mimicking a thousand car commercials.   No tickets or reservations necessary, no popsicles sticks were harmed or eaten.  All bridges must weight less then 1 pound.  Brought to you by A&E, all rights reserved. 

The secretaries in the office all crack up.   The students gape.  "Think anyone listened?" I ask my aide.  Mr. C shrugs.  

The special ed teachers tell me it was loud.  
Everyone's a critic.

Bustamante is thrilled.   Barragan, who is the one in charge of the contest and responsible for teaching the students how to build the bridges, creates a digital image poster, BRIDGES OF DESTRUCTION is written across the top in burning letters.  It's plastered over the school.

The principal wants to put up a prize.  We decide to refine the contest with a raffle, pick the winning bridge and have a chance to win cash.    A week later Mr. C and I come back with an even more obnoxious plug.  



Come Monday March 9th to see the bridges displayed in front of the auditorium!   Pick the winning bridge and you have a chance to win fifty dollars, cold hard cash!


Then Tuesday, March 10th, see if you're bridge survived for a chance to win the raffle!


No bridges will be spared, but there will be only one winner.  See the bridge, pick the bridge, share in the VICTORY!   All for your chance to win!


I end the announcement in a whisper.  Cash is not hard or cold, students may participate only.  Bridges will be on display Monday in front of the auditorium, then destroyed Tuesday March 10th!  Brought to you by A&E, all rights reserved.

Fifty Dollars Cold Hard Cash becomes the temporary catch phrase of the school.   Many of the students recognize my voice and shout out "Hey Leiken, Bridges of Destruction!" as I pass them in the hallway.  Mr. C's voice, however, is more of a mystery.   Many people at the school believe it's another student.  

Bustamante approaches, beaming.  "I told the superintendent about it at a meeting, and he's notified the local news.  I think we're going to get a news crew to cover it."

"That's great!"

"Yeah, but we need you to MC it."

Damn it!   I hate responsibility.   

On Monday we display the bridges in front of the auditorium.  There are four of them, all about a foot long made out of unaltered popsicle sticks stuck together with Elmer's glue.   The bridges are the Herete, the Clockwork, the F.A.B (for Fabulous Awesome Bridge) and the Whopper.   A blue box with a slot in top with the A&E logo is in front of each bridge.  We play Guns & Roses "Appetite for Destruction" as Mr. C and I MC the opening day event.   Many students are hesitant to come up and vote.   I crack jokes, I make inane comments, I pour energy into the mike in a valiant attempt to get more students to come up, examine the bridges, and win a prize.  

One of the students approaches.  "Hey Mister, maybe you should tell the students it's free.  They think they have to pay."

I slap my forehead.  "Come on up, this event is FREE!  For only a moment of your time, you too can come up and win fifty dollars!"

"COLD HARD CASH!"  Mr. C. shouts.

"That's right, fifty dollars.   How many hours would you have to work in McDonald's to get that fifty dollars?"  I ask rhetorically.   "That's a lot of burgers you have to flip!"

"THAT'S RIGHT!"  Mr. C. calls out.  "That is a lot of BURGERS!"

"Or you can win FIFTY DOLLARS, right here, right NOW!  There is no charge, there is no fee.  All it takes is a moment of your time."

Students swarm forward.  Later I'll tally the votes.  We get a total of 213.    Fifty dollars and we only got 8% of the student body.  What does it take to get teenagers to show interest?

On Tuesday Barragan brings out a black and red painted platform entitled "The Bridge Ripper" in bold red letters.  There is a space in the middle of the platform to place the popsicle stick bridge, which is then attached to a wooden platform with a metal hook.   Weights from the weight room are then placed on the platform until the bridge shatters.    

No one expects the bridges to last past 300 pounds. 

A news crew from Channel 7 (ABC) arrives to film the event as a throng of students encircle the contestants and their bridges.  We have cordoned off the area with police tape and tables.  A number of faculty and administrators gather, including an accreditation committee who is there on a three year visit to make sure our school is academic.  I announce the event, but for the most part, my job is done.  The event takes on a life of its own as the students cheer on the contest.  

The first bridge is the Herete, an anagram of the two last names of the two students who built the bridge.   Unlike the other bridges, it has no arches, instead it is built with a solid foundation down its center.   I don't expect it to last long.

It holds up to 405 pounds before breaking.

I'm in shock.  I call out the weights, find myself shouting "Good gosh!  That sure was a heck of  a bridge!"    Walt Disney would be proud of my lack of ability to swear.  

The next bridge is the Lockdown.  It only makes it to about 240 before it shatters,  popsicle sticks flying everywhere as the weights tear it apart.  

"Behold the power of mathematics!" I intone.  "Behold the power of architecture and engineering.  If these students could make a bridge that can hold hundreds of pounds of weight with no more then popsicle sticks and glue, what could they do with stronger materials?"

The F.A.B. is next.  It breaks around 270.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen!  These bridges are made out of nothing more then popsicle sticks and white elmer's glue.   The glue of choice of LAUSD for all your glueing needs.   Horse free since 1976!"

The teachers laugh.  Most of the kids don't get it.

Finally we come to the Whopper.  It's gotten the most votes of any single bridge, it simply looks stronger, with a double supporting arch.   Around 350 it begins to creak alarmingly.  The students keep adding weights: 370, 380, 390, 400.   The Whopper holds.   Team Herete is jumping up and down, praying for the Whopper to break.   The kids who built the Whopper can't look.  405, 410, 415, 420.   The bridge holds.  It's beaten the record!

We've run out of weights.    

"WE have a winner!" I cry out.  "The Whopper!  Amazing!  It has held 420 pounds!  A miracle of engineering and mathematical principles!"

Suddenly, the bridge creaks one final time before shattering into a thousand pieces as the weights plummet to the mat.     The crowd goes wild.  

The news crew wants to interview me and the students.   I try to keep it short, remembering when I worked at On The Scene that all anyone wants is a sound bite.  The students are stunned.  The news crew asks them why they named the bridge the "Whopper."

"Because like, we were eating whoppers when we built it, so the name fit."

A number of teachers congratulate me.  "Great job, Leiken."

I know.  

That night, at 5:53 PM, Bridges of Destruction makes the nightly news.   I'm introduced as a high school junior and contestant winner, but at least they get my name right.

Maybe I should crack more jokes at meetings.

For more, go to channel 7 online the NEWS THAT IS ON YOUR SIDE!

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