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It Takes an Engineer to Raise a Lighthouse

East Clayton Elem build lighthouses2
East Clayton Elementary students create a lighthouse “museum” each year to exhibit their models. Photo courtesy of Clayton Elementary

For many years, the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS) has offered to visit classrooms to talk about North Carolina lighthouses. This year, two fourth-grade teams of teachers and their students take the spotlight: East Clayton Elementary in Raleigh and Providence Creek Elementary in Charlotte. Students studied coastal features and current problems as well as lighthouse architecture.

group looks at CW lights
Students study what North Carolina lighthouses looked like during the Civil War. Photo by Bruce Roberts

Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, cofounders of OBLHS, had the pleasure to visit Providence Creek Elementary. The center of the room was dominated by a big coastal map showing ocean and inlets and sounds. Marking major map points were students’ handmade lighthouse models–and this went on throughout five classrooms.

Small teams in each class chose one of nine lighthouses to reproduce as a 3-D model. It was great fun to listen to students explain, “This didn’t stick, then that tore, then I couldn’t get the model to be round, and the pattern [daymark] didn’t look right.” These remarks were followed by thrown-back hands and, “It’s not as easy as it looks.” Perhaps not, but these young engineers did an impressive job. These visits are always inspirational and fun. We also offer follow-ups via personal communication with students who either have further questions or share their written projects.

Showing how LED light works Providence Creek Elem Charlotte
Two young lighthouse engineers explained how their programmed LED light worked to make their model shine brightly. Photo by Bruce Roberts

Former OBLHS president, Bett Padgett, has visited with East Clayton fourth graders several times. These students have “adopted” our society and have donated well over $1,000 for the benefit of North Carolina’s lights.

OBLHS offers two types of grants to assist classes traveling to a lighthouse or to help with expenses while studying maritime history, currently included in fourth- and eighth-grade state curricula. The society has sponsored hundreds of students to visit a lighthouse. You can read more about these grants on their website.

Submitted by Cheryl Roberts, Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, April 3, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to


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