Unique science classes are popular at local schools

Scott Turner, KP News Sammuel Andrews takes a close look at a finger print during a recent class assignment. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

About six or so years ago, Reynolds Riley started teaching an advanced forensic science class at Peninsula High School. It’s proved to be very popular and Riley now teaches three forensic classes a week to about 100 students.

Students who get a grade of “B”or better can get a five-hour college credit “at no cost to them,”she said. Several students have taken the course as part of a career path.

The class covers the basics of crime scene analysis.

“They learn how to dust for prints, and they know all the basic bag-and-tag protocol for crime scenes. We go into the history of it, we do blood spatter, identifying from bones –– about 15 different units,”Riley said.

Riley got the idea for the class when she attended a conference and read a prototype for the class. “I started teaching it the next week, right out of the book and the kids loved it,”she recalled.

“Some kids really get into the finger printing, some kids are into entomology –– the study of insect life cycles and how long a body has been dead. Some kids are into blood spatter. There are so many different things that we do. Something will spark somebody’s interest and I’ll take that and run with it, Riley said.”

PHS students recently took fourth place in a national forensic competition in Kansas City, Missouri, after winning at the regional and state level.

“We had to process a crime scene. They got 100 percent on their crime scene but they lost points because we didn’t have the money for some expensive equipment, so I made things with money out of my own pocket,”Riley said. “They were supposed to have all this expensive stuff hanging off their belts, but ours was all homemade, so that’s why we lost points. Otherwise, I really believe they would have placed in the top three for sure.”

Caleb Greer, 17, a PHS senior loves the class. “I think it’s awesome and it’s amazing that we can have this level of technology at our school,”the Wauna resident said. “I took the class because I eventually want to become a police officer and eventually become a CSI or something. I thought this class will be really fun and it is,” she said.

Helena Triplett, 17, agreed. “I’ve taken this class before but this is a more advanced class. I really like it because it goes into more detail and it seems like we’re getting a good feel for what it’s really like.”

Forensics classes have also been added at the middle school level as part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum, according to Brad Collins who teaches science and biomedical science at Key Peninsula Middle School.

“The gold standard in the biomedical science program is this program called “Project Lead the Way,”Collins said. “It’s a three-year program and we rolled out the first class this year  –– principles of biomedical science.

“Next year is human body systems, and the third year is medical interventions. We’re hoping to spark the kids’interest in science itself and maybe pursuing a classification in health,”he said.

Collins’class teaches medical biology principals woven around a fictitious person, one Anna Garcia, he said.

The very first day of class students learn that Anna Garcia has died.

“We spend the rest of the year figuring out how she died,”Collins said.

“We quickly eliminate any foul play because it’s not a forensics class. So we start looking at her blood, her heart and all her body systems,” he said.

There’s a unit on diabetes, a unit on cycle-cell anemia, a unit on heart health “…trying to eliminate possibilities and investigate how all of these issues and body systems can lead to death. It’s very much hands on, and solving real world problems,”he said.

The students design their experiments and models of systems and use data to reach conclusions, he said. “They’re using critical thinking skills and developing teamwork and collaborative skills as well.”

The biomed class doesn’t replace any other classes.

“A lot of my students are still taking general biology and chemistry and they’ve added this on because they’re interested in it. It’s an additional class,”Collins said.

“Ren (Reily) and I want people to know that we’re working hard to help students find success and find their passion and be successful by using these STEM classes to do that, and helping them to explore the world within a classroom,”Collins said. “That’s what modern science is all about.”