North Central science lab receives state grant
Fri., March 11, 2016
Science students at North Central High School will have more resources to pursue projects, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the state’s STEM Lighthouse School program.
“I’m excited, and the reason I’m excited is because there is a buzz in this room,” said Clarence Dancer, STEM supervisor at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “What STEM does is show young people how to face a challenge head-on,” he added, referring to the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math education.
The grant was one of six awarded in the state program.
At a ceremony announcing the grant this week, students in North Central’s Institute of Science and Technology lab displayed and discussed their research.
“We are just seeing the effects of predation on salmon,” said senior Kristen Wanke.
Wanke and her two partners – Taylor Charbonneau and Christina Negretti – are analyzing Steller sea lion scat to see what kind of salmon the mammals are eating. The three seniors collaborated with a marine biologist for the Makah Tribe to recover bone fragments from scat, then extract DNA from the bones to determine what species of fish were eaten.
Although the three will benefit from the Lighthouse designation, they just received a federal grant of their own, which will help them continue their research for three years, even after they graduate.
“One of the biggest parts of the project is the relationship with the Makah Tribe,” Wanke said.
North Central’s Institute of Science and Technology has been successful in large part because of the focus on real-world science, said science teacher and IST founder Randy James.
“It’s not the building,” James said of the state-of-the-art lab. “We have a culture at NC. (Students) know what it means to actually succeed.”
About 90 percent of all students graduating from the IST program study STEM subjects in college. Of those students, the average GPA is 3.62.
The focus on applied science and the program’s track record of success was a key reason North Central was selected for the STEM Lighthouse grant, Dancer said. The program selects schools that have science programs that serve as a “beacon” to other schools.
“Science has always been reserved in some sense for the elites,” NC Principal Steve Fisk said. “We can normalize a culture where all kids can (do science).”
Juniors John Shuster and Marie Chapman are studying celiac disease, a condition where the body is unable to process gluten. The students are approaching the issue from a different angle, examining how insects that eat massive amounts of wheat and other grains process gluten.
“If they eat the wheat they must have some tool to digest the wheat,” Shuster said. “No one else is looking at arthropods.”
“They are researching a topic that they want to research and no one else has done that research,” said NC chemistry teacher Janet Knight.
The money from the Lighthouse grant will be used to help fund student research, increase partnerships with local high schools and pay for professional development for teachers, Fisk said.
The Lighthouse program started in 2010 and provides three middle schools and three high schools with funding each year.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.