The new Pierce Terrace Elementary School, currently under construction, was the topic of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guest appearance during the kindergarten and first grade students' Science, Technology, Engineering and Math period Jan. 22.

Students transitioned between stations to get lessons in construction tools and safety equipment, energy, floor plans and the environment.

Building with candy and dressing up in hard hats and vests were some of the afternoon's highlights.
With new technology-savvy and environmentally-friendly features, the move to the updated Pierce Terrace may be a big transition for the kids.

To ease anxiety, Lisa Metheney, USACE senior civilian, came up with the idea for the event.
She was inspired by her own experiences.

"When I went from kindergarten to first grade, I went into a brand new elementary school," Metheney recalled. "I remember thinking about, as a kid, what's it going to be like?"

Her class got a walk-through of the site before it opened to relieve fear of the unknown.

"I just remember when I was a kid how helpful that was," Metheney said. "We want them excited about the new school they're going into. Change can be scary no matter how old we are."

The event was also a way to get an extra STEM lesson in, and that is always beneficial, Metheney and David Dodds, USACE construction division chief, agreed.

Pierce Terrace holds a weekly STEM class for students.

There's a "real need" for more people in STEM careers, Dodds said.

"As a country, we're trying to get people interested" in those lines of work, Dodds added.

Kindergarten through first grade students are starting to understand what they like to do, Metheney said.

Kids who enjoy building with Legos, drawing, and taking things apart may discover their passion for working with their hands at a young age.

"We might have the next electrical engineer. We may have the next plumber. We may have the next mason," Metheney continued.

With a shortage of tradesmen and women nationwide despite high wages, USACE does regular outreach in schools to spark enthusiasm for STEM-related fields.

The events are normally held in Charleston, where their main office is located.

The $27 million elementary school construction project, ongoing since October 2017 and set for completion in July, was the perfect reason for a trek to Columbia.

"We're trying to introduce (students) to some of the new elements" of the new school, Dodds said.
Among them are LED lighting paired with extra daylighting and movable walls.

Eighty percent of the walls at the school can be readjusted to scale to ever-changing class sizes that come with the frequent transitions of a military lifestyle.

The new site was designed "with kids in mind," Metheney said. "We're going to be able to more seamlessly integrate things like their iPads."

"It's meant for today's learning environment," Dodds added.