Principles of Biomedical Science is the introductory class of a new career pathway at Pratt High School

Anna Garcia, age 37, has died, and it is the job of a class of Pratt High School students to find out why.

About 16 mostly freshmen have enrolled for a new class in a new career and technical education pathway. Joy Schmidt, who has taught science for eight years, the last three at PHS, has been involved with the planning stages during that time. A $25,000 grant from Monsanto will allow the school to implement the class sooner than they expected.

A 10-day Greenback Spark Lab this summer got the kids excited about Principles of Biomedical Science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes.

On the second day of school, Schmidt will set up a crime scene.

For the first nine weeks, students will process the scene, learning about fingerprinting, blood analysis and so forth — CSI and NCIS stuff.

The popular TV shows have already created an interest, according to David Schmidt, curriculum director for USD 382. Along with learning science, students will explore careers, from 911 dispatcher to medical technology, criminology and law enforcement.

Over the course of the year, the students will learn about Anna's medical history — diseases she has, if she was managing her health correctly, what type of bacteria is present and how it is spread.

They will formulate a hypothesis about the cause of Anna's death and as a "final autopsy" will analyze reports, medical history, test results and notes made throughout the year.

"There are lots of scenarios to explore," Joy Schmidt said.

There are no textbooks; everything comes online and through a lot of hands-on experiences, like dissecting a sheep's heart.

Schmidt's role will be more of a facilitator than a teacher who gives students the content she wants them to learn. The kids will be doing the research and collaborating with each other — just as most will do once they're on a job.

Fifteen-year-olds are ready for the class, but it will be a challenge, she said. Some schools that have already implemented the biomedical series, developed by a non-profit Project Lead the Way, have set pre-requisites. Pratt High has not; the first year will determine if they need to.

"I'm a firm believer if we get those students interested, they're more capable than we give them credit for," David Schmidt said. "It's a matter of finding the avenue that fits their curiosity."

Principles of Biomedical Science is the first of a four-year curriculum that will also include human body systems, medical intervention and biomedical innovations. The students will follow Anna throughout the curriculum, learning about her family and their medical history and how it impacts her.

Next year's introductory students will get a new scenario — they can't just borrow the notes from someone who was in the inaugural class.

Pratt has really focused on career and college readiness the last few years, and every year, there are about 12 to 15 students who express an interest in medical careers, David Schmidt said. He thinks the number will increase as a result of the biomedical pathway. Kids know about doctors and nurses; they may not know the whole range of careers that are available in the field.

At the same time, the school is implementing a three-year Engineering by Design pathway that connects science ultimately to Algebra 2.