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CSI: Wolsey-Wessington: Wolsey-Wessington School dedicates week to crime scene investigations

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 11th, 2014


Wolsey-Wessington School looked more like the set of a CBS stage this week as students took part in a Crime Scene Investigation exercise which took part in a South Dakota Innovation Lab project this week. PHOTOS BY SHILOH APPEL/PLAINSMAN


WOLSEY — With bright yellow caution tape stretched across the classroom, fresh blood splatters, handprints, and many students engrossed in various forms of forensic investigation packed into the room from wall to wall, Wolsey-Wessington School was the perfect mock crime scene Thursday, Feb. 6.

From Monday, Feb. 3 to Friday, Feb. 7, Wolsey-Wessington School, which is a South Dakota Innovation Lab school, devoted the schoolweek, all day, every day, to the study of crime scenes. The experience was designed and developed by the PAST Foundation (Partnering Anthropology with Science and Technology) and The Ohio State University Department of Anthropology as well as the South Dakota Innovation Lab (SDIL).With their partners Sanford Research, PAST, and numerous community volunteers, the students of Wolsey-Wessington immersed themselves in forensic science. 

“FITC [Forensics in the Classroom] is a bridge program designed to let teachers and students experience hands-on learning that is rigorous, relevant and aligned to teaching standards – very different from traditional learning,” states the Past Foundation website.

“This program has run in schools across the country,” said Dr. Annalies Corbin, the Founder, President and CEO of The PAST Foundation. “It’s the first time we have done it for Kindergarten through 12th grade all at once.”

The high schooler’s forensic studies for the week were more in depth with understanding DNA, blood splatter analysis and chain of evidence, etc., while the elementary children were taught the basics of observation skills, body parts and an introduction to what DNA is.

“Elementary students had a kidnapper steal their stuffed animals and leave a ransom note while middle and high schoolers walked into an active murder scene complete with blood, murder weapons and footprints leaving the scene,” wrote Elliot Mork on the Past Foundation website.

The teams of students working on discovering the suspects were multi-grade (9 through 12) as well.

“A lot of them say, ‘this is the first time I did this. I never have talked to ‘so and so’ before,’” said Corbin. “It’s a great group of kids. They are seeing why all these skills they have been learning all week matter, and they are putting them to use.”

All teachers pitched in to help set up the crime scenes and became professional crime experts for the week.

“Its’s been a challenge for me personally, but it’s been great to see the kids working with kids they don’t usually work with. I also think that as kids get more technology in their lives, their attention spans keep getting smaller,” said Wolsey high school English teacher, Karen Jensen. “My four year old, for example, wants what he wants ‘now.’” In contrast to technology, Karen says this program has helped the students to pay attention and think critically as the process takes time.

Students learned to analyze blood splatters and handwriting, dust for and study fingerprints, make plaster molds of shoeprints, map out and measure where in the classroom the crime was thought to take place, and gather all evidence, among other things.

“I learned that a lot of things I saw on TV were wrong,” said student, Micheal Johnson.“NCIS is the most realisitic one. That’s my favorite one.”

“It’s been very different,” said student Meagan Eggleston.

“I’ve always wanted to be one when I was growing up,” said Junior Lorenzo Williams, of being a crime scene investigator.”It takes a lot longer than they show on TV. You have to take things into consideration, like no tampering with evidence.”

“Right now, we’re just sweeping through and making sure we get all of the evidence,” said Williams, as he double checked the classroom for the last time.

FITC volunteer, Alexis Dzubak, of Ohio State University, helped students with questions in-between being fingerprinted by numerous teams as a potential suspect.

“I have been working on forensic cases for about six years with my professors,” said Dzubak, who is a PHD student majoring in anthropology. Dzubak said that she believes these skills can help students who will be jury members in the future. “Part of being a good jury member is understanding what techniques go into the process.”

“It’s been quite exciting to see how the students engage in different things. The great part about this is that the students can really use their imagination combined with the evidence,” said Dzubak.

She explained that the process is in-depth. Monday, high school students learned to create detailed maps of their classrooms, Tuesday, they learned to analyze handwriting, fingerprints, tool marks and shoe prints, and Wednesday they learned about anthropology and blood splatters. Finally, on Thursday, students processed their crime scenes, gathered their evidence and put the skills they learned to use. Students on each team were able to choose what they wanted to specialize in, such as photography of evidence, analysis of a certain area, etc. On Friday students brought their conclusions to a mock-court with a mock-jury.

“The goal is for them to synthasize all of these pieces of evidence and come up with an explanation of what happened. The goal overall is to use the scientific method and apply these pieces of evidence. So this course emphasizes general science education,” said Dzubak.”It allows the students to see that there is more than one option. There are all these different career options for them to pursue. It also emphasizes the importance of teamwork. As a scientist, you never work alone.”

As a forensic anthropologist, Dzubak has worked on about 150 cases.

“There are two main things that a forensic anthropologist does,” said Dzubak. “Determine who someone is, and find out what happened to them.”

The students at Wolsey Wessington dedicated their week to doing just that, and perhaps taking a step in the direction of their future careers in the process.

For the complete article see the 02-08-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-08-2014 paper.


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