Hands-On High Schools
(Originally published in the San Diego Reader March 6, 2013.)
On a Friday morning in mid-January, the students in room 607 at University City High School cluster around computer screens in small groups. Most wear sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers. One girl sports the light-blue-and-white jacket and tiny skirt of the school’s cheerleading uniform. A handful wear white lab coats, which, on Fridays, earns them five points of extra credit.
I approach a group of four girls near the front of the classroom. Their monitor shows a page illustrated with the outline of a human body. It looks no different than a worksheet a teacher might pass out in kindergarten for children to use as a template for a self-portrait. But Mykalah Palado, the bare-legged cheerleader, and one of her group-mates, Ana Radic, a serious-looking girl with long straight hair and glasses, explain that their assigned activity is a bit more complicated.
“We’re basically supposed to come up with a patient,” Radic says.
“Like a homicide story,” Palado interrupts.
“Well, yeah,” Radic continues. “We have to give a type of death, like, homicide, accident, or natural cause.”
“And a story of how exactly they died, and what’s shown in their autopsy,” Palado says.
Radic points to the diagram on the monitor. “Basically, that’s an external-injury diagram, and then there might also be internal injuries. So we’ll probably fill that out. And then, for the actual autopsy, which is also internal, we’re going to take out the organs and weigh them and measure them and see which organs were affected.”
Her manner is matter-of-fact, her face serious. Ellie Vandiver, her teacher, will later predict that Radic will end up with a PhD in biomedical research.
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