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A hands-on program aims to re-engage students in academics.
Published Oct. 15, 2013

The media center at Northeast High became a crime scene Thursday, but in a good way.

In groups of three, 10th-grade students from the school's "Back on Track" program brushed Pepsi cans for fingerprints and compared gun cartridge cases, part of a day-long class to introduce them to the field of crime scene investigation.

The program, funded by a Planned Parenthood grant, aims to re-engage students who have fallen off track for graduation due to poor scores in Algebra I or English I in their freshman year. Fifty 10th-grade students participate in smaller class sizes and "experiential" programs to heighten their interest in academics.

The simulated investigation was led by Forensics Technology, a company that engages communities in the crime scene investigation process.

When Northeast principal Kevin Hendrick heard about Bayside High School's success with the demonstration, he scheduled a CSI day for his students.

"You see the conversations they're having and it's deep discussion about content and it's high-order thinking for them," Hendrick said during a visit to Thursday's demonstration.

The 22 participating students were handed manila folders filled with information on the fictional murder of a wealthy music producer - biographies on the suspects, crime scene evidence and notebooks. Then they divided into two investigative teams, aided by volunteers from Forensics Technology. Volunteer actors with the company played the roles of suspects, including the producer's wife, his mistress, a television show co-star and a talent scout.

Manny Dominguez, a Forensics Technology volunteer, guided students through the process of lifting fingerprints from a Pepsi can to a card.

"If one of those kids goes home and stares at the print card we gave them and says 'I think I can do this job,' and this projects them in a different direction, that would be awesome," Dominguez said. "It would be great to reach out to even just one."

Dominguez's efforts resonated with Northeast student Zack Vance, who has been researching a profession in forensics technology for seven months. "This is what I want to do in my future," Vance said.

Pairs of students shared notes and took turns questioning the five suspects. Quentin Moran and Anthony Sowell drilled actor Orlando Bravo, who played the role of a talent scout named "Lucky." Bravo's character made the students emotional, repeating their questions to throw them off.

"It was going good in the beginning and then he started trying to play mind tricks on you," Moran said.

Students discussed their theories on the murder. Destiney Gatewood and Jessica Stern compared notes on their interview with an actor who played the mistress.

"I thought we would just be looking at little things and not be really doing anything, but we're actually having a hands-on experience," Gatewood said.

At the end of the day, the students weighed the evidence and concluded that the mistress and the talent scout committed the murder. But but they were shocked to discover it was "Heidi Sommers," the television show co-star.