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Biotechnology honor will help Diman program grow

Diman freshmen Breanna Treloar (left) and Lisa Reed work at transferring sample of their own DNA during a project in Jan. 201

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter

The way Dylan Barcelos, a sophomore at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, sees it, the learning that goes on in a science classroom and a vocational shop at his school “go hand-in-hand.”
“The vocational aspect really helps,” Barcelos said, because it provides “experience working with our hands.”
Barcelos was one of a few students who made the trip with Diman principal Kyle Alves to accept an award the school received from the Cambridge-based MassBioEd Foundation. That award, called the Joshua Boger Innovative School of the Year, was given for the school’s “commitment to engaging students at all levels in hands-on biotechnology experiences,” according to the foundation.
The award will enable the school to expand a biotechnology program at the school that’s already seen growth during the past two years. That program includes a biotechnology science club with nearly two dozen students and the Diman Genes in Space team, now in its second year, competing against other high schools for the chance to send a genetics experiment to the International Space Station.
In a statement, MassBioEd Foundation Executive Director Peter Abair said the school “has gone above and beyond to foster an enthusiasm for life sciences and help encourage students to pursue careers in biotechnology as they look toward their futures.”
Diman is already looking to expand. In a statement Alves said the school will be investing significantly — more than $350,000 — in building a state-of-the-art biotechnology lab and classroom. It should be ready by next fall.
Diman biology teacher Liss O’Connell, when reached on Thursday, sounded excited about the award. She said biotechnology has been growing at the school since its partnership with MassBioEd began.
“Since then we’ve been able to do really cool things. I have basically embedded biotechnology at the ninth grade and 10th grade level,” O’Connell said.
Not only have students been engaged in hands on learning activities in the classroom, they’ve been engaged in other activities, including genetics testing, Skyping with scientists and cancer researchers from places such as Harvard University.
O’Connell, who said she worked in a lab before becoming a teacher at Diman, said students are engaged in the school’s new approach to teaching science.
“Now we see this as the way to teach science,” she said.
“This week we introduced the genetic code, analyzing food to see if has been genetically modified,” O’Connell said. “So we’re going to be doing a genetic barcoding experiment, to identify species based on genetic markers.”
It just so happens, the lesson also fits “perfectly” with Common Core math curriculum standards, O’Connell explained.
While biotechnology is mostly a cornerstone of honors classes at this point, students in other classes are also getting involved, O’Connell said. “Our regular ed students are also helping me prep samples.”
And chemistry students are helping create the buffers used in biology students’ experiments.
O’Connell said the prospect of a new biotechnology lab “is very exciting.”

“We’ve been working with architects, to design a state-of-the-art place, where students can be really creative, take risks. We’ve already started the prep work,’ she said.

O’Connell said the school administration have been “such supporters” of the biotechnology initiative.

“You have to have the support of the administration,” she said, noting that suggesting students do college-level work could be a tough sell. But now, “kids are learning and it’s not just doing work sheets from a text book.”

“It's really exciting,” O’Connell said. “We’re doing really cool things. Diman didn't use to be very big in science.”

Students like Barcelos and his classmates sounded as though they are on board with the approach.

Barcelos pointed out that some vocational shops, like health assisting and engineering fit naturally with biology.

Classmate Kylie Cooper said learning biotechnology gives her and her peers the opportunity to learn laboratory skills, giving them a head start for later in college and potentially their careers.

Aaron Gouveia agreed, and professed a love for science.

“What I learn here I can apply to a job,” he said.