Christa McAuliffe P.S. 28 Students (the Tunnel Savers) Recognized in National Science Competition

Students from the team designed a comprehensive Hurricane survival plan for residents, developed a flood protection system for our infrastucture (Holland Tunnel), and for keeping garbage out of our tunnels and off our streets.
Christopher Columbus Awards
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* Education
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* Jersey City - New Jersey - US

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - April 16, 2014 - PRLog -- Jersey City, New Jersey—[April 16, 2014]—Bright ideas, solid research, and teamwork won four students from Christa McAuliffe P.S. 28 in Jersey City, NJ, a berth as semifinalists in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities

The project’s focus was designing and engineering a better defense mechanism against flooding of tunnels in Jersey City and New York, which can be applied throughout the region. The Tunnel Savers came up with a method to make sandbags that could withstand the surge force of flood waters. They did this by redesigning the way sandbags stay together and improving static friction with increased surface area touching between sandbags, (Sandhands-their name based on their design with interlocking fingers) that would increase the resistance to surge forces that blew through sandbags during Hurricane Sandy. To increase protection, the team created a pool of water with sandhands in front of tunnels that further enhances the resistance to surge forces by using the mass of water in the pool. Additionally, the team reached out to the community by creating a simple 10 step hurricane survival guide in 5 languages to reach the culturally diverse residents of Jersey City. The team uses its website ( and social media (Twitter 1,117 followers, Facebook,, Youtube channel) to spread their message. The Tunnel Savers team consists of 8th graders Jericho Mata, Antonio Hernandez, Cristian Contreras, Abdelrahm Hassan, and they are led by advisors Robert O’Donnell (Milken National Education Award recipient 2013) and Joel Naatus (Jersey City district teacher of the year 2014).

The Tunnel Savers tested their project in P.S. 28’s staff-built aquaculture lab with a flood table and a scale model of the Holland Tunnel, designed specifically for this project. The team found that by using pool formations and interlocking handbags they were able to keep water out of the model tunnel and their design, if built to scale, would have kept over 90% of surge water out of the Holland Tunnel during Hurricane Sandy. This school year the team met with the Director of the Holland Tunnel for infrastructure safety, Stephan Olmo, and he demonstrated how the tunnel flooded and what is currently being done to protect this regionaly important part of our infrastructure. This helped the Tunnel Savers design a system that automatically fills sandhands (their name for their sandbag design) in order for them to be rapidly deployed to locations in need during an emergency or natural disaster.

Abdelrahm Hassan thinks this is what this experience means, “As a team you gain confidence, and strength, you aren't just friends with your team members, you create strong bonds with them making them family”.  When asked by their team coaches recently what they would like to pursue as a career, all team members quickly replied “Engineers”.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education judged this idea as one of the top 30 Christopher Columbus Awards entries in the U.S. More than 850 students and coaches participated nationwide.

A Chance to Compete at Walt Disney WorldÒ

On April 25, eight of the 30 semifinalist teams will be named winners of an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they will compete in the Christopher Columbus Award's National Championship, June 8-13, 2014.

Rewards include $2,000 cash prize for each team member for the top two national winners. In addition, one team will bring home the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant to help bring its idea to life in the community.

The finalists also will attend the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program. Conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of Epcot® and the Magic Kingdom.®

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology.  Now in its 18th year, the competition has attracted more than 21,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Past Winners

Past winners have included a team from San Diego that has secured a provisional patent for a specialized seat cushion design that uses sensory feedback to train people to maintain a healthy posture while sitting at a computer, and a group of students from Illinois who developed a multifaceted recycling awareness campaign that has increased recycling in their community by 60% in just four months.

Strong Participation from Girls, Minorities

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter an academic or science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and nearly 20% of all participants are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draws a broader range of students to enter.

For more information, please call 1-800-291-6020 or visit

Stephanie Hallman
Source:Christopher Columbus Awards
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Tags:Education, Engineering, HURRICANE SANDY, Stem, Science
Industry:Education, Engineering
Location:Jersey City - New Jersey - United States
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