Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

South Mountain School 4th Graders Create ‘Canstruction, Jr.’ for a Cause

From South Mountain School:

A recent visitor to the South Mountain School gymnasium would have seen a slice of pizza the size of a kitchen table, a treat of milk and cookies fit for a giant, a pair of sneakers, and a miniature version of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. A closer look would show that these structures were made almost completely out of cans of food. And best of all, they were designed and built entirely by fourth graders who would later dismantle their creations to donate to our local food pantries (Our Lady of Sorrows, Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, Bobrow Food Pantry, and St. Joseph’s).

This surreal scene was the culmination of the fourth grade STEAM “Canstruction, Jr.” project, an artist-in-residence program in which local architects and engineers taught the students basic design principles and helped bring them to life. The PTA, which spends more than one quarter of their annual budget on arts programming, along with generous sponsors Pollack Properties, Target, Goya, and General Movers, were able to bring this unique STEAM experience to the school. Nationwide, Canstruction art exhibits have helped raise over 50 million pounds of food for local food banks since 1992. That aspect of the program was important to the South Mountain community.

“It was good to know that everything we made was going to charity,” said Alice M., one student whose class worked on the “milk and cookies” structure. Fourth grade teacher Tammy Murphy agrees, saying that the cooperation that occurred every step of the way between parents, students, and staff made her feel “so proud of our community. It was a true collaboration of efforts, and that made the results so rewarding.”

Parent volunteer Christine Shaw, a professional engineer who practices law at a construction company, was struck by the students’ curiosity and ingenuity. “During one of my visits, we discussed the importance of a building frame for resisting forces. Students worked in groups, and one group successfully used their bodies to build the frame of the Burj Khalifa. I was really impressed by how well they understood that concept.”

And of course the project was also a lot of fun. “It was cool because we got to do it as a group, and we had control of it,” says Alice. “We got to pick what we were doing and make our own plan. I also felt like we could relax because while we were working on this, there weren’t as many rules as there usually are in school!” For more information on Canstruction, check out

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