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Katie Piercy

Budding doctors, researchers, and forensic scientists solve a mystery case in new career pathway course at Wayne County High School


By Linda Jones

Wayne County Schools

    Did Anna Garcia die of natural causes? Did she suffer from a brain aneurysm? Was it a homicide?

Teenagers in Emily Hopper’s Project Lead the Way (PTLW) inaugural class spent the school year establishing these theories and then solving the death of a fictional person named Anna Garcia in their seventh period class. The project based learning strategy proved successful in this first class of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related initiative.

“They are learning as they are doing,” said Hopper, as she mingled amongst her students as they explored medical treatments that may have prolonged the person’s life in the Science classroom. “They are getting a big dose of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry.”

The six unit introductory course is very structured. It forces students to think critically and do the steps in solving the mystery themselves. They learn about DNA to nutrition to diseases.

“This class makes kids step out of their comfort zone,” said Hopper. “They learn information through a hands-on approach and solve real life situations.”

One thing different about Hopper’s classroom, is that there is an evidence board next to her interactive Smart Board which housed all kinds of clues to solve the case. Students conducted a variety of experiments during the course. For instance, they collected data during a blood splatter analysis as part of their discovery information.

Freshman and sophomore students had to apply for admission to this rigorous course with a short essay and good attendance record. “I think they really enjoyed the class. They are all wonderful kids,” said Hopper.

Eighteen students completed the Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS) last year. Fourteen of the students returned to take the next phase of the program called Human Body Systems (HBS) where they will take on the roles of biomedical professionals. This year, the veteran students will examine the interactions of the human body systems as they explore identity, power, movement, protection, and homeostasis. Exploring science in action, students will build organs and tissues on skeletal models, as well as using data acquisition software to monitor body functions, such as muscle movement, reflex and voluntary action, and respiration.

Next year, the third phase of the program will be added as students’ progress grade levels. That class will be called Medical Interventions (MI) where students follow the life of a fictitious family as they investigate how to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Local students can look forward to detecting and fighting infections; screening and evaluating the code in human DNA; evaluating cancer treatment options; and prevailing when the organs of the body begin to fail.

It will open up the world of immunology, surgery, genetics, pharmacology, medical devices, and diagnostics that may lead to future career goals. Students are being made aware of specialized job opportunities through these studies that they might not have known existed.

“For example, I want these kids to say, I want to be a geriatric nurse because I enjoy working with the elderly,” noted Hopper. “Or perhaps, a nurse anesthetist or maternity nurse.”

The final capstone course of the sequence is called Biomedical Innovation (BI). Students will address topics ranging from public health and biomedical engineering to clinical medicine and physiology. They will have the opportunity to work on an independent research project with a mentor or advisor from a university, medical facility, or research institute.

“Community partnerships are a big part of this work based learning program,” said Hopper. “We will be looking for shadowing experiencing that will help our students be exposed to these occupations.”

Wayne County Schools are anxious for their students to fill the current STEM skills gap in the national workforce; and more specifically at home. These advanced classes require high expectations on behalf of the school, as well as the students having high expectations of themselves. The hope is to develop a local workforce of collaborative problem solvers, critical thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs for the future.

    PTLW is just one of the many programs featured in the new career pathways being offered to students so they can be career ready. Within each pathway, there are close to 30 sub-pathways for more customized curriculums giving students greater options. Plus, students can obtain about a dozen different certifications to help them enter the job market.

“Adding Project Lead the Way (PLTW) gives us a very rigorous career pathway for those students who plan to be physicians or other positions high in the medical field.  It is very detailed, specific, and demanding.  Ms. Hopper has put in weeks of additional time in the summer to be fully prepared to teach the class and has been very excited about the challenge.  Since we’ve added the second class in the PLTW sequence, the amount of students in the program is at a healthy level for sustainability. We’re excited to see it grow,” said Wayne County High School Principal Justin Alley.

“Mr. York and his staff at Monticello Elementary have also added Project Lead the Way as well, so we’re excited to see how our students will develop and grow from the rigor of the program,” said Alley.

Monticello Elementary started a similar STEM initiative last year through PLTW called Project Launch under the direction of Teacher Tammye Sumpter. Students rotated in and out of that mini-course during special classes which proved to be very popular and successful.

White coat ceremony

Left to right: 2016-2017 Freshmen Samantha Feducci, Jasmine Boykin, Makayla Bridgeman, Carly Cummings, Sydney Sloan, Nicole Hesse, Hannah Gregory, Katie Piercy, Ben Vickery, Nathan West, and Chandler Humble are pictured during the white coat ceremony at Honors Day last spring


Last year sophmores during the white coat ceremony (L-R) Alex Piercy, Dakota Lawson, Heather Abbott, and Megan Sullivan 

Carly and Sydney

Teacher Emily Hopper helps Carly Cummings and Sydney Sloan with the dissection

Katie Piercy

Katie Piercy dissects a sheep heart


Sophmores Jasmine and Makayla labeling the path of blood flow in the heart

Evidence Board

Students added clues to a Crime Scene Evidence Board in their forensic studies

Emily Hopper

Teacher Emily Hopper discussed the crime scene findings with Nicole Hesse

Ben and Nathan

Ben Vickery and Nathan West conduct a blood spatter test


Junior Bryce Gossage used his phone to collect data at the blood spatter experiment

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