May 24, 2013
By Michael Pommier
|Marcus Zapata; Austin Greathouse; and Zully Juarez|
It's not often that high school students are given the opportunity to find out firsthand what it's like to be a real scientist. Earlier this spring, more than 100 students from the Garden City High School Health Sciences Academy had the chance to show their skills at evidence-based research - and shed light on important community health issues.
The students were part of the KU Area Health Education Center's (AHEC) health career promotion event Night@The Lab. The Garden City students were put into groups of three and given a topic relating to cardiovascular or respiratory health. They had five weeks to dig up evidence-based research on their topics and put together a short presentation as well as a research poster. The presentations were then given to about 150 parents and community members on April 11.
"I thought our kids worked hard, they enjoyed themselves when they didn't think they were going to, and I think a lot of them did a lot more than they ever thought they could," says Mitch Schneider, Garden City High School Health Science Academy teacher. "It was good for them to get experience from something other than text books. They actually researched something, which is something a lot of them haven't done before."
The AHEC piloted the project in Garden City for several reasons: the diverse community, the unique academy-style organization of the high school and a strong relationship with the Health Science Academy teachers. Night@The Lab was created as a way to give high school students the opportunity to improve their professional skills, develop research skills and learn more about the academic rigors they will face when they move on to college.
"It was like a mini thesis," says Jane Schneider, another Health Science Academy teacher. "This is real life activity, and it's huge for them."
Each of the groups was judged by a panel of five community members. The top three teams then traveled to the University of Kansas Medical Center campus on April 25 where they had the opportunity to give their presentations to KU Medical Center faculty and staff. The students also toured Dykes Library, the Clendening Library of Medical History, Hoglund Brain Imaging Center, the Clinical Skills Lab at the School of Nursing and one of the research labs in the Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center.
Garden City High School sophomore Zully Juarez, a member of one of the winning groups, says the possibility of getting a trip to KU Medical Center gave here the motivation she needed make it through the project.
"At first I wasn't sure, but after doing some of the research, I started liking it, because I started learning new things about our topic," Juarez says. "What motivated me was the KU trip. That's what got my attention to actually work every hour we had during class and really put the effort into it."
Topics for the presentations covered a wide range of health issues- blood pressure, the effects of caffeine on the body, asthma, the effect of the supplement creatine on athletes, obesity, how physical fitness effect lung capacity, smoking, and cholesterol. Night@The Lab judge Matt Allen, who is the City Manager of Garden City, says it was great to see the students talking about various public health issues. He says now it is part of their vocabulary, and that will benefit the community.
"I was particularly interested in this because some of the topics selected were related to a broader definition of health and community health," Allen said. "It was interesting to hear the students talking about the effects of a statewide clean air ordinance. It's important to connect your public health community, the students and their parents."
Night@The Lab was piloted at Garden City High School, but there are plans to turn it into a regional competition in which schools will compete against each other, with the regional winners competing in a final at KU Medical Center.
You can see more photos of the students who particpated in Night@The Lab on the AHEC Facebook page.