CSI: FWBHS: Destin students become young scientists as FWBHS offers biomedical program

Jennie McKeon
Destin resident and current Miss Destin, Caroline Oswalt, teacher Devon Stewart and Destin resident Kerri Andre in a year 2 human body systems class. The students built replicas of the different organ systems on mannequins over the course of the year. This one was named after Stewart.

Dissections are all in a day's work for Caroline Lathi, a junior at Fort Walton Beach High School.

Occupations in the medical field are some of the fastest growing careers in recent years. With that in mind, FWBHS is preparing students like Caroline in Project Lead the Way (PLTW) to be future medical examiners, ophthalmologists or even epidemiologists.

"There are many different sub fields that are considered biomed and this program has allowed me to explore each one in more detail than an average class," Lathi explains.

"Without this program, I wouldn't have the slightest clue what an epidemiologist does."

The Destin resident began courses her freshman year, and after the first couple of weeks she was hooked.

Through PLTW, Lathi has experienced lessons in DNA analysis, forensic autopsies as well as an in-depth look at human body systems, medical interventions and biomedical innovation. The class has also experienced a little bit of real-world medical training with a visit from a medical examiner and the da Vinci surgical systems.

Lathi is still undecided about what she'd like to study in college, but has developed an interest in epidemiology, the investigating and understanding of the underlying true causes of disease. Lathi said her favorite part of the program is the dissection labs.

"I'm a visual learner and being up close and personal with studied items takes it to a whole new level," she said.

PLTW is an extracurricular program that provides a hands-on, real-world, problem-solving approach to learning in the biomedical field. Lathi is one of a handful of Destin students taking advantage of the program.

"Many students enter college without any experience in their major area," said Devon Stewart, a Destin resident and science teacher at FWBHS. "This program gives them real-world experience with the medical field and also exposes them to a variety of techniques and equipment most people do not see until their last years in college, myself included."

Okaloosa County School District decided to implement PLTW as its new STEM program [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics], in the 2010-2011 school year at Fort Walton Beach High School.

With a bachelor's degree in forensic science and biochemistry, principal Charlene Couvillon knew Stewart would be the perfect instructor for the program.

"I was intrigued by the curriculum. There is a forensics twist in each year of the course — whether it be crime scene investigation, learning about autopsies or DNA typing," Stewart said.

The PLTW courses are taken in conjunction with standard math and science courses and are weighted, just as honors level and advanced placement classes are. It's also possible to earn up to 12 hours in college credits. The program starts in ninth grade and continues through all four years of high school, although students can choose to not proceed with the program.

"The program is growing," Stewart said. "So far, the first year has started with around 40 students and anywhere from 25 to 30 move to the second year. After the second year, almost all of the students stay with the program."

After the program undergoes national certification next year, it will be one of the few biomedical certified programs in the state. FWBHS is the only school in the district offering this program and even has a few students on waiver specifically because of PLTW, Stewart noted.

Currently, the program is funded solely by a federal grant. It is Stewart's hope that the program becomes self-sustainable through donations and fundraisers. To garner more attention, she is setting up a Project Lead the Way Partnership Team comprised of medical and health professionals, school and district employees and parents to focus on marketing, student recruitment and implementing a job shadowing program.

"It's the fun part of science class — labs, studies, experiments, microscopes,” Lathi said. “I wouldn't recommend it to the faint at heart though, you have to be ready to get down and dirty."

Want to learn more? Visit okaloosaschools.com/fwb/?q=stewartd/biomed to learn more about the PLTW. To see what the students are up to, you can visit www.facebook.com/fwbhsbiomed for pictures and updates.