Education column: Forensics lessons making return

Following upon a unique and innovative idea introduced last year, Clovis High School Freshman Academy students are about to launch into crime investigation once again.

Nicole Hahn, science teacher at CHSFA recently shared the details.

“Last year’s project was such a success that we decided to do it again, so if you’re driving by CHSFA and see crime scene tape and paraphernalia, don’t worry. It’s just a lesson,” she said, laughing. “Based upon our science and other standards, we want students to take the knowledge they’ve learned, apply it to a real-world situation, and come up with their own conclusions, using inferential and critical thinking.”

Last year’s project began with a look at the famous Sacco-Vanzetti case wherein the two individuals were tried, convicted and executed with virtually no evidence. This CHSFA project led to the re-creation of the original Sacco-Vanzetti crime scene — complete with laminated blood spatter and other evidence strewn across the library floor — with teams of students doing the investigation and follow-up. The entire process crossed curricular lines, from blood typing, genetics, DNA for science; to vector analysis in math, to English (lots of writing and research), along with history.

Hahn expressed enormous gratitude that the same professionals are coming in to set up different types of crime scenes and guide students through the meticulous process of investigation. New Mexico State Police Sgt. David O’Leary and Sgt. Gary Smith, in charge of forensics for the southern part of the state, are creating five types of crime scenes throughout the CHSFA campus this year. Smith, a Clovis schools alum, is bringing some of his forensics team in during part of the week, and both O’Leary and Smith are enthusiastic about working with students.

Speaking of enthusiasm, Hahn discussed how engrossed students are in the whole process. “The interest level is huge for students. One of mine — never interested in anything — was eagerly sharing her vocabulary with me, asking if she had accurately understood the meaning of toxicology, something that’s never happened before. Also, you constantly hear students eagerly discussing different aspects of the investigation in the hallways. And…students are coming early to class to find out what we’ll be doing today.”

After getting down the basics at the beginning of the week, students have had an opportunity to learn about dusting for fingerprints on long tables with butcher paper; also, how to use an Alternative Light Source to identify bodily fluids in the school restrooms; pretty interesting.

Students are themselves discovering how television programs can be misleading, and during the aftermath, when lab analysis is taking place, they learn to appreciate the painstaking process of wading through facts, debunking myths perpetuated by media glamorizing scientific investigation.

Interestingly, all of this coincides with the CHSFA Careers Fair during which a considerable variety of individuals will be on campus to talk about different jobs with students.

Curious? Hahn says, “Drop on by and try to solve the crimes; you’ll have to pit your wits against our freshman, though!”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org