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Jess Huffman | The Republic St. Bartholomew science teacher Bridget Steele, middle, gets Becky Peters, left, and St. Bartholomew seventh-grader Matt Lovins to go down a zipline earlier this month at eXtreme Brown County, just west of Nashville. As part of their school project, St. Bartholomew County students are designing a zipline for the park.
NASHVILLE — Airg Tong’s hands sweated as she grasped tightly to a rope, connected to a cable, connecting one point of Brown County’s colorful terrain to another.
The St. Bartholomew Catholic School seventh-grader fretted over zipping 70 feet in the sky, among the trees and birds, on the longest zipline in Nashville’s outdoor fun park eXplore Brown County at Valley Branch Retreat.
It didn’t get any easier when she finally pushed herself off the man-made wooden ledge overlooking the property.
“I kept going backwards,” she said. “I was scared I was going to hit my face on a tree or something.”
Tong’s face was safe. And serenity hit Tong once her feet hit the ground.
“After I got off, I wanted to do it again,” she said.
St. Bartholomew students seeking excitement got some earlier this month at eXplore Brown County, 2620 Valley Branch Road. Now, they’re building their own thrill-ride, a superhero-style zipline that takes its visitors on a face-down flight 30 feet in the sky, traveling about 600 feet through the multipurpose park.
“What you do is kind of jog down a hill, leap off a cliff and you’re flying,” said St. Bartholomew science teacher Bridget Steele.
The students’ self-expectations are soaring, too.
Earlier this month, the students picked out trees from which they plan to design their zipline. They’re now divided into teams of five, with eight groups total, attempting to build the perfect model for the fun ride.
“Everyone will have the same base underneath,” Steele said. “What they’re going to be deciding is where’s it going to be on the tree to make it safe and how much slack is going to be necessary to make it to the other side and return back.”
A panel of judges including eXplore Brown County employees, Steele and St. Bartholomew principal Kathy Schubel will select the winning design next month. The zipline is scheduled to be constructed by eXplore Brown County staff and inspected by Get a Grip, a national zipline safety evaluation team.
“We just have to design something that’s sufficient working and that’s cost-effective,” St. Bartholomew seventh-grader Isaac Jackson said. “You really have to incorporate physics so you don’t get stuck or run yourself into a tree.”
By participating in the project-based learning opportunity, St. Bartholomew students are using math, science, engineering and design. And they’re having a blast doing it.
“Having a community partner (eXplore Brown County) is so motivating,” Steele said. “Kids who would not normally be that involved are like, ‘We’ve got to do this, they’re expecting us to.’ They’re just entirely motivated.”
Steele was working as a zipline guide at eXplore Brown County earlier this summer before she accepted a teaching job at St. Bartholomew. She wanted to find a fun way to educate her students about science, and knowing eXplore Brown County wanted to build a new zipline, she had a way.
“Some of the physics principles that we’re covering are obviously gravity and inertia,” Steele said. “We’re also talking about friction and how that might slow them down. They’ve been learning a lot about kinetic and potential energy.
“When they come out, they sort of get a hands-on experience of what they’re trying to do.”
Most, like Lily Shelp, enjoyed the ride and expect others to do the same.
“After we got to experience it, we want to do it more,” she said. “We know other people will like what we create.”
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