Some high school students spend their summers working on their tan and relaxing with friends – anything but thinking about the start of the next semester or the looming specter of college. Students from Burchell High School in Southern Alaska on the other hand, are just as likely to spend this summer photographing sheep’s blood and donning medical shoes to prevent crime scene contamination as a part of a new summer forensics program sponsored by Mat-Su College.
The aforementioned sheep’s blood is part of a fictional murder scene meant to test the student’s crime solving abilities. Kathleen Nevis, a member of the faculty at Mat-Su, was responsible for creating the scene and for coming up with an accompanying scenario. In this case, the students would be trying to corroborate the story of a distressed man after discovering the body of his girlfriend at the bloody scene.
The program is part of a series of hands on summer programs offered by Burchell High School meant to get kids learning outside of the classroom. Their programs include the Archeology Field School, the first outdoor recreation program the school designed, and a program called Adventure Academy centered on the Civil Rights movement.
The program has taken steps to engage the regional criminal investigation community, featuring presentations from Alaska State Troopers and from professional technicians with the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Working in the Alaskan wilderness presents a unique set of challenges for criminal investigators there, and the workshop allowed students to address questions about everything from basic procedure to removing bodies from remote locations.
The school is good for more than just an exciting summer alternative. Students in the program, while being challenged as problem solvers and investigators, will also receive college credit for their efforts.
For Kathleen Nevis, this was more than just about credits and teaching kids about her field. “Really what we’re trying to do” she said, “is get high school students excited about anything.”