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Friday, February 14, 2020

Beechwood Middle School Students Tackle Amazon Traffic

It was late January in Fort Mitchell, but this Friday morning just felt different.

The big day began as it usually does for Luke Erdman, with breakfast and a healthy dose of anticipation for what will lie ahead after he makes the trek down Beechwood Road to school.

“Oh, today’s the day,” Erdman thought.  “Maybe a lot of people don’t expect 7th graders to do what I’m doing.  They’re coming in.  So I’d better get in my mode.”

Who’s “they”?  We’ll get to that momentarily.

Erdman is a 7th grader in a class known as “Seminar” at Beechwood, a pillar of the newly-created EDGE program that encourages students to collaborate, problem-solve, compromise and be creative.  The EDGE aims to make Beechwood graduates ready for any post-secondary path that awaits by focusing on these soft skills and reinforcing them through real-life learning scenarios.

And third period ended with Ben Lusk, Beechwood’s Director of Curriculum, standing before Erdman and the middle school students in his Seminar class.  Lusk teaches the course and was beaming with pride in the Idea Lab.

“This is what you do in life.  You present.  You try to sell your ideas to people.  And even though you’re a 7th grader, that doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for the stars,” Lusk said.

The metaphor dealt with astronomy.  The students confronted issues that related, quite literally, to what might soon happen on the ground.

Amazon is building a brand new facility near the CVG Airport, with a reported completion date expected in 2021.  A job-creating boon to the regional economy, Amazon stands to employ several thousand workers at the new venue, and must manage a steady flow of employee vehicles as well as freight and delivery trucks at the site.

Simply put, traffic flow is a concern.  And how does a region celebrate an economic gift while managing the prospect of congestion?

Enter the Seminar students at Beechwood.

The 7th graders broke into small groups and spent months working with a team from District 6 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.  That’s who “they” are.  The students suggested expanding the roads leading into and out of the facility, re-striping the streets, re-timing the traffic signals, and even building new roads altogether.

Lusk made sure to emphasize that this is a real-life exercise.  “There’s a possibility some of your ideas could go into effect here.”

Any and all solutions were on the table as the students made their proposals for how to alleviate traffic bottlenecks at or near the new Amazon facility.

“I’m very proud of the students,” said Monica Wainscott, who teaches the class along with Lusk.  “I think for me the most exciting part is the growth that happens over the course of the challenges we give them.  I get to see the red light go on.”

The EDGE program encourages students to seek and accept feedback, and embrace the concept that, if unsuccessful at first, a student should keep trying and collaborating to find an optimal solution over time.  The teamwork with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet included plenty of brainstorming, revision and, ultimately, a presentation.

The team from the Transportation Cabinet said the students’ suggestions were on-point and they left Beechwood very impressed.

“If you all want to come work for us in 5-10 years down the road.  Please, everybody:  send us an application!”, said Dane Blackburn from the Transportation Cabinet.

And reveling in the successes of his students, Lusk couldn’t help but daydream for a moment.

“Imagine as a kid.  You turn 16 years old and get your first car.  And you drive down the road that you helped create.  You can’t replicate that.”

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