Twenty-four fourth- and fifth-grade students took their seats Jan. 29 on the floor of the Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School. Each WHAM student had a bag of Legos — everyone had the same pieces — and instructions to use the stackable blocks and their imaginations to build something.

Other than a 45-minute time limit and the materials, there were no guidelines as to what they could create, said Jana Browning, member of the National Association of Women in Construction, the organization responsible for the national Block-Kids competition. Using the provided blocks, students could use three of the four following building materials: tin foil, rocks, string and poster board.

“You are allowed to trade out Lego pieces for another shape,” Browning told the group as they began building. “Just raise your hand if you want to trade out a piece.”

The designs included cranes, buildings and bridges, and while the students worked, judges came around to participants to discuss their designs.

Moria Gauthier, third-place winner, constructed a solar-powered apartment building for the homeless.

Gauthier said her creation was a proposed solution to the social problems she already knows exist in Baton Rouge.

“I see people all the time without homes,” she said. She wanted to create a solution that won’t harm the environment, she said. “I wanted to use energy that will never run out.”

Second-place winner Yancey Steady built a working crane, and beside it, a building under construction using the crane.

First-place winner Nora Badinger built a bridge, using poster board to create spans, tin foil to connect them and stacked Legos as footings.

Winners received a small cash prize, Browning said, but the payoff for her industry will be much greater.

“We want to get kids thinking about a career in the construction industry,” she said, an industry that needs both trade and skilled workers that require apprenticeships or trade school certifications, and designers that require a college degree.

“This is a way to introduce them to some of the possibilities, in a fun way,” she said.

It’s also a great opportunity for WHAM, said Lynn Mitchell, school counselor. The administration at WHAM is always looking to expand their students’ exposure to the world, while at the same time allowing them to be creative and hands-on.

The designs of the three local winners will advance to the regional competition, and one semi-finalist from each region will move on to the national competition, Browning said.

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