Danielle Echeverria, October 22, 2022

Pop hits from the past several decades rang out all the way toward the parking lot at Ocean Beach on Saturday morning, where thousands of people stretched across a mile of coastline prepared for the 40th annual Leap Sandcastle Classic — a competition that brings fourth- and fifth-graders from schools across the Bay Area to showcase their architectural and sculpting talents in the soggy sand of the Pacific.

“It’s very competitive,” said Jill Dineen, executive director of Leap, the San Francisco nonprofit that hosts the competition each year to raise funds for arts education in Bay Area schools. “These teams come to play.”

And come to play they did: 20 teams of students and their helpers from local design, architecture, engineering and construction firms. After some initial chaos as kids went sprinting with shovels upon hearing the starting horn, the teams, all dressed in matching shirts made for the event, zoned in on executing plans they’d spent weeks working on.

“They’ve been so excited for this,” Jackie Phung, a fourth-grade teacher at Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, a Chinese immersion school in the Inner Sunset, said as he watched his students piling sand into what was supposed to become models of San Francisco landmarks.

Phung’s students had prepared for the competition over three sessions with their adult teammates from design and construction firms Wood Rogers, Assured Partners, Saylor Consulting, Towill and RRM Design Group. At the first session, Phung explained, the kids brainstormed and made some sketches of what their design would be. At the second, they worked with clay to see what they could really build, and at the third, they made a full clay model of what they would build on competition day.

“Anything that can take the learning outside is great,” he said.

Darren Choy, a manager of engineering services with RRM, directed the kids, holding a poster with pictures of the landmarks they were trying to emulate — including the Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower and Lombard Street — and a sketch of where everything would go on their 20-by-20-foot building site.

“This is the vision,” he explained.

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