St. Anne's-Belfield School has accepted an invitation to partner with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, to take part in, and help plan, an on-site high school biology program. This program will be offered to students as an Intensive, one of many experiential learning courses offered during the three-week period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break that allow students and teachers alike to explore topics outside of the typical curriculum or in greater depth than traditional course time would allow.
"To give you an idea of the magnitude of this invitation, imagine if our basketball teams were invited to train with the Celtics, or if Chef Holt were to bring students to train at the Cordon Bleu," said Head of the Upper School Peter Quagliaroli.
"This is simply an amazing experience for the students who will be able to not only do hands on work for the week at the MBL, but also bring skills and knowledge back with them to share with the School community."
In the past decade, the School has moved away from standard and Advanced Placement biology curricula in favor of a unique advanced biology curriculum that shifts the focus from students simply studying science to students actively doing science. Mr. Pearce Johnson's Environmental Statistics Senior Seminar is an example of this focus shift. For several years students have counted and monitored the spinymussel population in the Rivanna River as part of an effort to restore the James River spinymussel to the Rivanna watershed. In addition to providing data to the Rivanna Water Conservation Authority and the state's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, it is believed that this is the only high school course in the country that has students actively working to repopulate a watershed with an endangered species.
The students selected to travel to MBL will have a similar opportunity to contribute to scientific studies conducted by professional researchers, with state-of-the-art technology available to aid their work. Students will learn from MBL faculty about the latest advances in genetics, biodiversity, imaging, embryology, and DNA analysis and manipulation, including CRISPR, a newly developed technique that promises advancement in curing many diseases, including cancer.
This experience will also contribute to the School's on-going relationship with the University of Virginia's Department of Biology, specifically the work of Dr. Sarah Kucenas, recent winner of the prestigious NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship. Dr. Kucenas is using zebrafish as a model for human neurological development, disease, and injury. Students who have gained experience at the MBL will have the opportunity to work on projects which align with Dr. Kucenas' research, carried out with U.Va. technology and equipment of a standard not usually readily available to high school students.
"Many scientists will go their whole careers without a residency of this type," said course instructor and Upper School science teacher Andrea Beardsley . "For our students to have this opportunity in high school is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Photo courtesy of Megan Costello/Marine Biological Laboratory.