SEQUIM — There’s nothing like walking into a crime scene on the first day of high school.
A mock-crime scene was exactly what students found on their first day of Principles of Biomedical Science class at Sequim High School.
At the beginning of the school year, Sequim High School launched a new science curriculum under Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national program that helps high school students to develop strong backgrounds in engineering and science fields.
This program allowed the high school to offer three new courses this year: Introduction to Engineering, Principles in Biomedical Science and Human Body Systems.
Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal said the school is moving away from traditional biology and life science classes and looking into more Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)classes.
“It’s the idea of trying to provide high school students an opportunity to be prepared or find passion in areas they’re not being exposed to,” Neal said.
PLTW aligns with next generation science standards that were implemented nationwide and statewide in Washington in 2013.
Steve Mahitka, an agriculture science teacher and CTE director at Sequim High School, said these standards shift towards teaching science students can relate to in a career setting.
“The next generation of science standards are the Common Core of the science world,” he said, “basing science on phenomena.”
Mahitka said to his knowledge, Sequim High School is the only school on the North Olympic Peninsula using Project Lead the Way pathways and courses.
Neal said the high school is trying to align with Peninsula College and Olympic Medical Center so graduating students can take the skills they learn from these science and engineering classes to further their education or to go into the workforce.
“Peninsula College has a very robust nursing program,” Neal said. “So (Peninsula College) is aligning with us and trying to find ways we can get kids interested in that pathway.”
Human Body Systems teacher Isaac Rapelje said he can attest to this shift in science standards from how society is evolving and putting more emphasis on career and college readiness and STEM fields.
“It’s more a global emphasis on STEM and getting teachers and students on the same page,” Rapelje said. “And showing (students) STEM is important and going to be an emphasis in the future.”
Neal said at the previous school district he worked for in Spokane these science and engineering classes were offered, and he wanted to pursue those classes for Sequim High School.
About the classes
These new science and engineering courses aim to create more engagement among students and introduce them to careers in health, medicine and engineering.
“There’s a career component to all the things they’re doing,” Mahitka said.
“I would say overall, especially in Principles of Biomedical Science, the freshman are really engaged,” Rapelje said.
“There was a buzz around campus about seeing the staged dead body on the floor.”
During a presentation to the Sequim School Board about PLTW on Jan. 22, teacher Brad Moore discussed some of the goals of his Introduction to Engineering class.
“There’s a lot of instant challenges we present to the classroom,” Moore said.
“We’re really trying to make the kids think and see how to solve problems and come up with different solutions.”
In the Principles of Biomedical Science and Human Body System classes, students gain experience in laboratory and clinical skills and equipment and software proficiency.
These classes also constitute as equivalency credit classes allowing students to fulfill either a science or CTE credit and are referred to as “articulated” courses that build off each other, applying what students learn to the next course.
Moore, Rapelje and fellow science teachers Laura Gould and Brittany Murdach were required to attend a training course for one year’s worth of curriculum over several weeks last summer in order to teach these classes in the fall of 2017.
“We spent two weeks and over 100 hours learning how to teach these classes,” Rapelje said.
Looking to the future
Neal said the high school is looking to add more science and engineering courses in the future.
“The intention next year is to increase that number (of courses) and try to find some funding to help us with that,” Neal said.
Some of the courses that the school is looking at adding is a third year biomedical science course called Medical Interventions, plus possible courses in aerospace and maritime engineering.
To fund this new curriculum and future courses, Neal and Mahitka said the school has asked for grant money from the Port of Port Angeles, state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and PLTW.
Sequim has received some other state funding, too.
Neal and Mahitka said much of the funding needed for these classes is used for training teachers, expensive technology such as laptop computers, and equipment for the students to use that go along with the curriculum.
“It’s a substantial investment in our students,” Mahitka said. “It’s a big commitment.”
Mahitka said that from a CTE perspective, there is a need on the Peninsula for students to go into medical or engineering fields.
“From our side, we see the need in our area,” he said.
“It’s hard to recruit doctors here, and there are 130 jobs that are unfilled,” he said.
“That’s a big impact in our county.”
Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at [email protected].