Staff Reports

Worries about increased train traffic on the west side of Columbus next year have prompted second-grade students at Columbus Signature Academy — Fodrea to propose some solutions.

Students have written letters to Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts talking about their concerns about the increased train traffic, said Alyssa Lamb, a second-grade teacher.

The second-graders have been studying trains and the local impact of more trains traveling through Columbus since the beginning of the year, Lamb said.

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The project was developed about two weeks into the school year as part of Lamb’s “I Wonder” board inside her classroom. The “I Wonder” board encourages students to post questions they have about something by writing it on a sticky-note and placing it on the board.

While delays in getting to school were mentioned as being caused by current train traffic, other students commented the trains would take longer to travel through the city, Lamb said.

“We started investigating it and researching it, and then the kids wanted to figure out what they could do to help solve this problem,” Lamb said.

The city of Columbus is partnering with the Indiana Department of Transportation to construct a $30 million overpass at the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection, with INDOT agreeing to pick up half of the total cost. An impact study performed by American StructurePoint shows that the city will have as many as 22 trains traveling through the intersection starting next year.

The students have created train safety posters which have been placed around CSA Fodrea, said Erin Mattern, project-based learning manager at CSA Fodrea.

Second-grade student Piper Flannery said she isn’t too worried about the increased number of trains because the overpass will benefit the community.

Second-grade students Piper Flannery and Bristol Myers said they both have enjoyed learning about how trains work and learning how overpasses are constructed. The students also recently went on a field trip that took them on a train ride from Connersville to Metamora.

As part of the project-based learning process in studying the train issue, students also designed their own railroad overpasses using popsicle sticks, tape and pipe cleaners as part of a joint project involving fellow second-grade teacher Jenna Flannery’s class.

The students’ designs were tested using Matchbox cars, with increasing numbers of cars added to test how durable each design was. Fifty-three students watched the demonstrations involving the overpasses.

“Can the car go across?” Lamb asked them.

“Yes,” they said in unison, prompting cheers and applause when their overpass designs held up successfully.

In addition to building railroad overpasses, students formed committees to learn more about the train issue, including a committee that will make presentations about train safety to be posted on BCSC’s e-Learning platform online.

“We try to keep our students engaged,” she said. “We tie in all of our standards, things we have to teach based on their level of interest, so all of our reading has been about trains, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.”

Lamb said Fodrea staff are pretty amazed about the amount of work the second graders have put into their train project.

“They’ve really taken off with the project and they’ve learned a lot and we’re just really proud of how far they’ve taken this.”

What is project-based learning?

Project-based learning focuses on students taking the lead in solving a problem or issue and teachers becoming coaches or facilitators, according to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. website.

PBL involves giving students a well-rounded education that allows them to be critical thinkers and often involves working with different partners within and outside the community, said Jim Roberts, BCSC superintendent.