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School competition builds bridges – literally and figuratively

Students look on as one of the bridges is tested to see how much weight it can withstand. ADAM SEGAL PHOTO

The cheers were loud and the excitement was palpable as students from six Jewish day schools participated in the inaugural Gesher Chai Bridge Building Competition.

A combined group of 60 students from Bialik Hebrew Day School, Robbins Hebrew Academy, Associated Hebrew Schools, Netivot HaTorah Day School, Leo Baeck Day School, and the Goldwater School in Eilat met at Bialik’s Viewmount campus March 15 for a contest that required them to utilize their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

The students – there were 14 teams – had to build the strongest bridge they could out of popsicle sticks and wire. The structures were judged on both strength and design.

The event enabled “students to build bridges both literally and figuratively,” said Amy Platt, Bialik’s director of general studies. The competition was her brainchild.

“While the children were literally building physical bridges, they were also creating figurative bridges by establishing relationships with the Israeli students, and in the process, they were strengthening their ties to Israel,” she said.


Platt noted that bridge building was also taking place between the students from the different day schools. “They have had the opportunity to talk to kids from other schools. The schools represent the various divisions in the community… It’s nice to see all these kids coming together with a common interest and common excitement.”

This figurative bridge also extended to the Bialik school families who hosted the Israeli students, said head of school Shana Harris. Many of these parents attended the contest to cheer on “their Israeli kids.”

The 12 Goldwater students – they’re all members of their school’s robotics team – were on a five-day trip to Toronto.

Tal Simtov, 13, one of these students, said he really enjoyed teaching robotics to Bialik’s Grade 5 students.

He said meeting Jewish people from Canada was also very important to him. “I like connecting with Jewish people in other parts of the world.”

Sinai Shapira, one of two teachers from Goldwater at the event, said the trip was a success from both an educational and social standpoint.

“It’s all about collaboration. It’s great to see the kids all working together.”

Platt created the bridge competition with the support of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Israel Engagement program. Federation and Bialik had sent her and Matthew Connors, Bialik’s IT director, on a mission to southern Israel to promote Israel engagement through STEM.

The competition was sponsored by HighVail, an IT company headed by Bradley Brodkin, who was introduced to Platt through the federation. Brodkin was on hand to judge the competition and present the awards.

Goldwater’s Team No. 2 won the contest, followed by Leo Baeck’s north and south campus teams in second and third place, respectively.

“The fact the Israeli students won the competition shows us that Israelis have a lot to teach us in STEM education and that the partnership is valuable on many levels,” Platt said, adding that she hoped this event would be a foundation for future STEM competitions with Jewish day schools and Israeli students.

“This competition showed us that so much is possible. To see Israel engagement combined with rigorous academic learning has been a professional dream come true.”