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Pumpkins go flying at Arbutus Middle

Pumpkins are launched from a trebuchet, a type of catapult used in the Middle Ages, at Arbutus Middle School. The contraption was built by students in the school's Eagle's Workshop after school club.

A crowd watched in awe as pumpkins were catapulted through the air, smashing to pieces in a practice field behind Arbutus Middle after school on Tuesday.

The pumpkins were launched from a trebuchet, a large wooden catapult used in the Middle Ages to throw objects, drawing a crowd of nearly 100 spectators at the school, located at 5525 Shelbourne Road from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

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The contraption towered over the crowd standing 14-feet tall, 16-feet long and 5-feet wide.

Each pulverized pumpkin drew yells of excitement from the crowd.

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"We picked the trebuchet because of the wow factor, and we thought it marries science, social studies and math," said Michael Guarraia, the school's science department chairman. "We wanted them to have fun in a semi-educational way."

The trebuchet was built last fall by a group of students in the school's Eagle's Workshop afterschool club, sponsored by Guarraia and social studies department chairman Brian Mangiafico.

Students designed small table top versions and the best attributes from those were selected and used for the final model, displayed by the group during their Tuesday launch event, Guarraia said.

Although the teachers tested the trebuchet last spring, they had to wait for approval from the Baltimore County Public School's Office of Risk Management before holding a public launch, Guarraia said.

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The club was established to expose kids to the building trades, like carpentry, that offer rewarding careers, Guarraia said.

"Not every kid is destined for college, and that is OK," he said.

The trebuchet project was funded by a $2,000 grant from the Education Foundation for Baltimore County Public Schools, said school principal Michelle Feeney in October.

Contributors to the event included: Bosch who provided tools; The Hillman Group who provided hardware; Bouchat Industries, who fabricated custom brackets for the axles of the trebuchet; Bay Town Painting, who offered sandblasting services; and Big Poppa Smokers who supplied a conversion kit to turn three barrels into smokers, Guarraia said.

"Things like this don't happen without a very understanding principal and key partners," Guarraia said.

Parents, teachers, students and school administrators were joined by community members who stopped by to enjoy the show and eat hotdogs and pulled pork sandwiches cooked in a professional-grade meat smoker, also built by the students.

"That was one of the nicest things — I think that science teacher is great teaching the kids how to build things like that," said George Kendrick, 92, known by many as the "mayor" of Arbutus.

Kendrick has two grandchildren attending Arbutus Middle and was among the crowd watching.

Another community resident, Richard Greene, owner of Arbutus Auto Painting & Body, said that although his son Jake attends Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Lochearn, he wanted to check out what was going on.

"[Guarraia] is great," Greene said. "You can tell he just has so much passion for teaching."

English department chairwoman Lynn Elliott said, "Because of his job as an engineer, he's able to share his knowledge with students here at Arbutus Middle."

The Connecticut native earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Loyola University. He worked as an engineer for six years at Lockheed Martin before deciding to become a teacher.

The event even prompted a visit from Baltimore County Public Schools assistant superintendent Dr. Penelope Martin-Knox, who said she attended because, "When we're doing something that's creative and innovative I come out to support it.

"This isn't the first time he's put something like this in place," Martin-Knox said. "How many of these students would have the opportunity to do something like this if [Guarraia] hadn't set this in motion?"

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