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Endowment helps Rogers High School pursue STEM studies

An endowment provided to Rogers High School by the family of a former educator has begun funding lab equipment and college scholarships needed to fuel the aspirations of students like 16-year-old junior Savanna Wickering, who wants to solve the mysteries of how people die.

Wickering has been hooked since one day at Garry Middle School when she listened to a 20-minute presentation from Carol Kaplan. The high school teacher visiting Garry that day showed Wickering that her interest in science could lead to a career.

So the first week of her freshman year at Rogers, Wickering signed up for Kaplan’s Principles of Biomedical Science class. It centers on a fake person who dies and tasks students to learn about the forensics surrounding her death. They also learn about a list of health ailments that may have contributed to her death and about the autopsy. Along with a trip to a cadaver lab, the students are introduced to 36 careers that relate to the fictitious woman’s demise.

Based on that and subsequent classes, Wickering said she now wants to attend college to eventually become a forensic pathologist and medical examiner to determine the cause and manner of someone’s death.

“There are always different challenges. You could get poisoned or get shot. I want to be hands on and I like mystery, too,” Wickering said. “I can go in there and take the knowledge I have and figure it out: How did this person die?

“I love the excitement when you can actually solve a mystery and actually discover the truth of what actually happened.”

Rogers, Ferris, and Lewis and Clark high schools have about 500 students enrolled in the biomedical science classes based on curriculum from Project Lead the Way.

Kaplan said she started teaching the classes in 2010, but the recent endowment has begun opening new doors at Rogers, where some 81 percent of students live in poverty, according to federal benchmarks including qualification for free or reduced-priced school lunches.

“It is about that big dream for kids to be able to change the direction of their lives,” Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney said. “We tell kids you can do that. It is not easy. You have to work … But, it can be done.”

Giving back

Wyborney said she wasn’t sure about the numbers, but believed the family, which wants to remain anonymous, provided about $280,000 into the endowment. It’s set up to allow others to give, and for it to grow.

Some of the money goes directly to Eastern Washington University to support Rogers students who attend there. The contributions will grow as the fund grows, she said.

Though students were already funneling through Kaplan’s biomedical science classes, the endowment will allow Kaplan to purchase equipment and eventually allow Wyborney to remodel a laboratory specifically for Kaplan’s classes.

“We have kids at (University of Washington), Stanford and WSU who have gone through (Kaplan’s) biomedical program,” Wyborney said. “That interest of getting a leg up in high school because you are taking a STEM class, yeah, it totally changes a kid’s trajectory.

“They are finding out there are not five or six kinds of jobs to have, there are hundreds,” she continued. “That’s what really opens doors for kids. It’s not about poverty, it’s about passion.”

One Rogers standout is Andrew Radford, a 2018 graduate, who is attending Stanford University to study environmental sciences.

“It’s not that (Radford) will be making more money than his parents. It’s about doing something he loves,” Wyborney said. “It’s about the passion he has to change the world.”

But the principal also threw praise at Kaplan, who teaches all four of the biomedical science classes at Rogers.

“Carol’s passion for this is ridiculous,” Wyborney said. “Kids buy into that. And this endowment gives us an opportunity to increase their exposure to their field and their experiences.”

Biomedical pied piper

Kaplan, 59, has been teaching at Rogers for 16 years and 25 years overall.

Kaplan was certified to teach a biomedical science curriculum from Project Lead the Way in 2010 and Wyborney said she’s planning on training a second teacher over the summer so Rogers can start offering computer science courses next fall.

Part of Kaplan’s job is to reach out to students at middle schools, like she did for Wickering, to plant the seed and recruit students to take her classes.

“Kids often say, ‘I really love science, but what can I do with it?’ ” she said. “I think in the long run, we are trying to make a difference in kids’ lives.”

Alivia Plenty, a 16-year-old junior at Rogers, said she followed her older sister into Kaplan’s class. While Plenty’s sister attends Whitworth University and intends to become a surgeon, the younger Plenty said she wants to become an emergency medical technician and work as a firefighter.

“I’ve always looked up to her and I wanted to do something like her, but I didn’t want it to be as intense,” Plenty said of her older sister. “I like the education behind becoming an EMT … and why they do it. I’ll help fight fires, too.”

That interest came directly from attending the biomedical science classes under Kaplan, she said.

“If more students and parents knew about this class, they would send their kids here,” she said. “It really is a step up. It gets them ahead of the game if they want to go into the medical field. I just think it’s a great opportunity for everybody.”

But the equipment necessary for the class, even with a boost from research firm Jubilant HollisterStier, does not come cheaply.

“The school district has done a wonderful job of finding money for us,” Kaplan said. “Do we have enough money to buy a $2,000 or $3,000 piece of equipment? The endowment allows us to do that.”

And Kaplan said she was able to hook students like Plenty and Wickering with only a 20-minute presentation.

“We could see the excitement,” she said. “What if I could do it for a number of days so they could see the pathway they could build in their lives? Is biomedical better? Is computer science better? Is engineering better? They now have those classes that lead into those pathways.”

The endowment also allows Rogers to support its students once they graduate. School officials already have an agreement in place with EWU and are working with similar programs at the Community Colleges of Spokane and Washington State University.

“Scholarship money for so many of them is so essential,” Kaplan said. “When our students have a vision that they want to pursue some of these STEM areas, we want to be able to support them, not only here at Rogers, but as they move into those college career paths.

“The idea was for the endowment to encourage those kids and support them any way we could to continue that track,” she continued, “because we need good people in those positions.”

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