November 17, 2011 in Washington Voices

New classes introduce students to science, technology, more

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Central Valley sophomore Madie Laws, left, and junior Meaghan Schmidt, right, react as teacher Bill Plesek places a beef heart on a dissecting tray. School districts throughout the region are kicking off a new career and technical program focusing on biomedicine and other scientific areas through a program called Project Lead the Way.
(Full-size photo)

Madie Laws, a Central Valley High School sophomore, isn’t sure what she wants to be when she grows up, but she knows she wants to do something in the medical field.

To help get her there, Laws is taking a new class taught by Phil Plesek, principles of biomedical sciences, which studies various health conditions such as heart disease, sickle-cell disease and diabetes. In a recent class, students dissected sheep hearts and cow hearts to learn how they work.

“They said that the cow and the sheep (hearts) are a lot like our hearts,” Laws said.

The class is part of Project Lead the Way, a program which introduces students to various aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM. The curriculum is hands-on. In the biomedical classes, students have also measured their own heart rates, checked blood pressure and have worked with electrocardiograms. Plesek said the student’s lab reports are formatted like those in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This is the first year Central Valley School District has offered the program. There are biomedical classes, engineering classes and even a middle school engineering program, Gateway to Technology. A partnership with Washington State University, Spokane, classes are available in Spokane, West Valley, Mead, East Valley school districts and Riverside and Newport high schools.

Although engineering classes have been available since the 2008-’09 school year, this is the first year biomedical classes have been offered across the region, with the exception of Mead, which is in its second year.

Sylvia Oliver, the affiliate director with WSU Spokane, said about 40 teachers from around the country came to attend the Core Training Institute for Project Lead the Way over the summer. The teachers must take the training before they receive the curriculum and resources. There are no textbooks used, but there are many labs and online resources for the teachers.

“It gives them a chance to understand the curriculum,” Oliver said.

Since the program is national, there are online forums where teachers can ask their peers questions after the academy.

Oliver said that students who take Project Lead the Way classes do better in their other classes. She noted the Toppenish School District, which has a student base in which 99 percent receive free and reduced lunch, found a way to get the program into their schools three years ago. Before the program came to the school, they couldn’t find enough students to attend pre-calculus classes. Now they have three pre-calculus classes.

Project Lead the Way began with an engineering strand in 1997 in New York. Since then, Oliver said that 85 percent of students who have taken Project Lead the Way classes, and attend college, graduate.

STEM classes are on the rise these days and Oliver said it is important for students to become interested in health science since there will always be a demand for workers.

“The fastest growing career area is within the health sciences,” she said. “They can’t be outsourced.”

She said teachers in the program are introducing students to more than 40 career opportunities in the health sciences, not just becoming a doctor or a nurse.

Regardless of whether they choose a career in health science, Oliver said the program also teaches students about leading a healthy lifestyle.

“It really gives students a solid foundation in what keeps you healthy,” she said.

Shirley Andrews, assistant principal at CV, said there are five biomedical classes offered this year and two principles of engineering classes.

The classes filled up fast. Andrews said the skills students learn will help them move into the medical field someday, since much of what they learn will be used in post-graduation studies.

“We could have filled seven of these (classes),” Andrews said. When the schools in CVSD announced the classes, students were quick to sign up. Plesek said he is teaching 142 students in five classes a day.

In the coming years, the biomedical classes will expand with human body systems, medical interventions and the capstone course, biomedical innovations.

In the Spokane school district, classes are available at all high schools except for North Central. That school has been involved in a similar program from the Institute of Science and Technology for several years.

Mike Nepean, coordinator of Career and Technical Education, said the program is a great way for students to prepare for their post-secondary education. Although the classes are included under the CTE umbrella, many jobs in the medical field require certification beyond what they learn in high school.

While the students are learning about subjects beyond their usual science curriculum, Nepean said another benefit is the professional development teachers receive from WSU Spokane.

Melanie Rose, spokeswoman for Central Valley, said the training for the teachers was intensive. Teachers spent two weeks learning the curriculum at WSU Spokane and traveled to Pullman as well.

Back in Plesek’s biomedical class, students donned safety goggles and gloves and consulted a diagram of the heart before they made their first cuts. Plesek said the sheep hearts had been preserved and processed, but a donation of 70 cow hearts from Egger’s Meats allowed the students to learn from a fresh specimen.

They learned which side of the hearts were the front, or ventral sides and which side was the back or dorsal side. They identified the coronary artery made a cut through the ventral side to look inside the chambers.

For junior Erin Fletcher, the class has helped her decide what her future career will be. She had been sick as a child and the doctors who treated her saved her life. This made her want to look into becoming a pediatrician.

“I really want to be in the medical field,” Fletcher said. “This confirmed it.”


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