Ellen Brunson, an ACCENT teacher at Lovett Middle School in Clinton, Mississippi, started teaching forensics as a unit in 2013. Starting with a small unit on forensics in the classroom, she researched for additional information, resources, labs, etc., and has expanded the unit each year which now includes 14 Forensic Sciences. Ellen says, "The Forensic Unit is one that covers many of the gifted objectives, introduces the students to a wide variety of careers, and crosses over into the other academic subjects. The mystery of Forensics intrigues the ACCENT students, gives the students an opportunity to be leaders in the classroom and gives them an opportunity to do many hands-on activities."
Ellen's research and her students' interest turned their small forensic unit into one that now covers crime scene basics, anthropology, ballistics, gun shot residue, biology, blood basics, blood spatter, cheiloscopy (lip prints), chemistry, chromatography, DNA evidence, document examining, engineering, entomology, fingerprinting, impression evidence (tire tracks), odontology (teeth), pathology, and physical evidence. Each year Ellen and her co-worker, Felicia Hudson who is also an ACCENT teacher at Lovett, have their students choose one of the forensic sciences that they are interested in and begin researching it in order to create a presentation to be shared with the class. They also plan a lab and guide the students through the lab. In most cases, they get evidence from 3 people (suspects unknown to the rest of the class) such as fingerprints, lip prints, tire prints, foot prints, shoe prints, teeth prints, etc. One person is chosen to give evidence twice (criminal). The students have to study the evidence carefully and compare the suspect's evidence to that found at the crime scene to determine which suspect was at the crime scene.
Ellen also looks for professionals in the community who can share personal experiences regarding their work with forensics. One year, Ellen had a student whose mom taught Forensics at Jackson State University. The student's mom came into the classroom and led students through several labs including drug testing and fingerprint lifting. Having such a knowledgeable outside resource added tremendously to the unit. Then about 4 years ago, they found out that former FBI Special Agent Jeff Franks was teaching in the Clinton Public School District. Jeff Franks investigated the 911 plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as well as, war crimes in Kosovo, so Ellen knew his experience would be invaluable for her students. Having met with him, they put together the idea of a Forensics Fair that he agreed to sponsor and have his high school Criminal Justice students teach the middle school students. In preparation for the Forensics Fair, Mr. Franks teaches his high school students all the steps of processing a crime scene, as well as other things. For instance, handcuffs have nothing to do with processing a crime scene, but they learn about handcuffs as a part of their law enforcement unit. Ellen says, "It has been a wonderful experience for our students, and I believe it has helped to build a healthy relationship between the schools while allowing the high school students an opportunity to be leaders."
I had the opportunity to attend this year's Forensics Fair and enjoyed seeing the students interact and learn. The older students were very informative and patient with the younger students making sure they understood. The younger students asked questions and eagerly participated in the activities. Mr. Franks and his students set up five stations for the Forensics Fair including: Fingerprinting, Protective Clothing, Processing a Crime Scene with Photography, Measuring and Diagramming the Crime Scene, and Handcuffs - Law Enforcement. The younger students were divided up into 5 groups and sent to different stations that rotated approximately every 15 minutes.
Walking around, I spoke to several of the high school students who all seemed immersed in the task at hand. Ashley, one of Mr. Franks' Criminal Justice students, was teaching the younger students the importance of fingerprints at a crime scene and how they are collected. When asked about Mr. Franks' Criminal Justice Class, Ashley said, "I enjoy his class because it is very challenging, and we learn so much about laws that will be important to us both now and as we become adults. We also get to look at both sides of the law and determine why the laws are good. For instance, we used drunk goggles to drive a golf cart and quickly understood the lack of control a drunk driver has behind the wheel."
To take their forensics unit a step further, Ellen and Felicia teach about the Judicial Branch of Government by having their students participate in Mock Trials. Ellen says, "The Mock Trials are so much fun for the students as they learn many courtroom terms, reasons for objections, and role play the many characters in a trial. Many of the mock trials do not include all of the evidence so that students must use creative and critical thinking skills to determine their decision on the verdict. This becomes very interesting as the students begin to debate about the verdict, question missing evidence, and make a case for the prosecution or the defense."
And if all this isn't enough, Ellen and Felicia are excited about their students creating a large community campaign about "No Texting and Driving". This is the first year their students have attempted a campaign this large. The students are writing letters to the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce members, the Fire Department, Police Department, Mississippi College, insurance companies and many businesses asking for their support of this campaign. For help with setting up the campaign, Mrs. Sandi Beason, the CPSD Public Information Officer & Web Master, spoke to the students about the steps of a successful campaign. Immediately after, the students began researching statistics, state laws about texting and driving, determining a goal, a motto and a pledge. Currently, the students are designing and creating posters, flyers, bookmarks, pledge cards, etc. to post in the community, plus they are designing a billboard that will be displayed on the C Spire Billboard in Clinton. At the event, their plans are to have a large screen to show statistics, videos of people who have been involved and injured in a texting and driving accident, plus a commercial that the students have written, acted out and filmed themselves. Students have also asked the Department of Transportation to set up their Virtual Reality Distracted and Impaired Driving Simulators set up for driving teens and adults. Ellen says, "It is our goal to raise awareness of the impact of texting and driving, and encourage our community to make a pledge to never text and drive. Our motto is, 'W8 2 Reply, Save Lives’.”
Ellen and Felicia have made learning fun and exciting for these students, and they are reaping the rewards of seeing their students want to make a difference in the community. Each year, the excitement grows and the students want to do more. The sky is the limit for the ACCENT program at Lovett Middle School in Clinton, Mississippi!
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