Hands-on lab experience at Purdue helps JHS students who plan to enter the world of STEM

Science Research

Jefferson High School student Michelle Perez Ahuatl is spending her senior year working on conversion of gases. She goes into a lab, reviews the process, studies the data.

But she doesn’t do this work in her high school science classroom. Michelle works with Purdue professor Dr. Jeffrey Miller, a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Yet she gets credit as part of the JHS Science Research Class.

The course is coordinated by JHS science teacher Christine Kassab. It pairs highly motivated juniors and seniors with Purdue faculty in order for students to get more hands-on research experience.

“This is a great way for students to be exposed to research,” Kassab says. “If students are interested in STEM careers, there are so many connections to Purdue.”

Students in the course work in a variety of different areas at Purdue – projects include psychology, engineering, biology, atmospheric science and climate change. They work with faculty mentors, helping them with their research, reading and interpreting data, learning practical applications and how to use the data once it’s collected.

Perez Ahuatl has worked over the summer with Dr. Deva Chan in Biomedical Engineering. She has looked at methodologies, setting up and changing metals and gases.

“I really like the research part,” she says. “Going in and working in a lab, that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most. It’s a really good environment.”

The course help students who are ready for the leg-up this partnership with a Purdue faculty member will give them, says Kassab. The relationships they build are so important, and getting to learn about what real research looks like. The students will present their work at the Science Fair in the spring.

Perez Ahuatl says the course has helped her as she navigates the world of STEM and research at a top-tier university.

“It’s helped me grow as a researcher and as an individual,” she says. “It helps me understand science more to work in a lab. I find ways to connect their knowledge with what I already know.”

She plans to study at Purdue next year. While she isn’t sure exactly what she plans to study, she is enrolling as a First Year Engineering student; the course rotations will help her narrow down her options.

“There are so many fields,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll find something I’m interested in.”

Learning about the high-tech world of large engine manufacturing at Caterpillar


What do you envision when you think of a factory? Assembly lines with conveyor belts? People standing in the same place, doing the same repetitive task over and over until the whistle blows for quitting time?

That’s not the look of today’s high-tech manufacturing, which students at Oakland Academy learned when they toured the Caterpillar Large Engine Center in Lafayette Thursday, Oct. 5.

The Lafayette LEC opened in 1982, with the first engine coming off the assembly line in December 1982. The 1.3 million square-foot facility produces the large engines that power some of Caterpillar’s largest equipment. The 3500 and 3600 series both have mostly electric power and oil and gas applications, but Caterpillar is proud to be able to customize their products in order to meet customer needs.

Students got a full walk-through of the large facility – “There was a lot of walking,” they all said. But they saw every part of the manufacturing process.

The plant is laser-focused on lean manufacturing. Engines are assembled in both cells and on assembly lines, using highly specialized technicians. Use of robotics improves both ergonomics and efficiency; safety is a high priority. All engines are inspected at the plant during each stage of production, leading to a very low failure rate.

Oakland students were impressed with the precision operation they saw at the plant. “I liked everything about it,” says Semaj Hollis. “It was very easy for me to understand. And I can see where we get all our social media energy from.”


The attention to detail and to inspection was noted, she says. “They’re going to catch what they did wrong. They’re experts.”

There was much to learn at such a large facility. Allie Kuebler said it was a great tour.

“They 100 percent care about safety,” she says. “They were open to questions and shared lots of details.”

Manufacturing Week, sponsored by Greater Lafayette Commerce, gives students an opportunity to visit various manufacturers in the area, learning about our local economy, available jobs and the education needed to perform those jobs. Rayne Smith-Grenat, financial advisor for the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program at Oakland, appreciated seeing what is available.

“They were very detailed about the manufacturing and the skills needed. I found that very interesting.”

Author J. Scott Savage encourages creativity through stories and reading
Savage with book

Let’s say you’re writing a novel. Or a short story. And you want your main character to be a cheeseburger. And let’s say the cheeseburger has a secret hideout where she plays techno music on an electric keyboard. For an audience of rabbits.

Sounds too ridiculous to work? Not at all, according to J. Scott Savage. The award-winning author of fantasy and suspense novels, known for the FarWorld series and the Lost Wonderland Diaries, visited Sunnyside Intermediate School August 30, inspiring students to keep reading and keep telling their stories.

Savage grew up a storyteller. As kid, out with his cousins, he made up a story about a superhero hot dog named Captain Weenie and his arch villain, a little purple man. As he finished, he looked at his cousins, worried it had fallen flat. “And?” they said. “What’s next?”

An author was born. It took him a few years – he had forays into other careers, such as plumber, Internet company CEO and French chef – before settling on writing.

And now, 25 published books later, he is still writing. And he visits schools across the country – about 20 each week from August through May – working to instill in students a love of reading and writing.

Students at Sunnyside responded with great enthusiasm when asked about their favorite literary genres. Funny? Yes! Scary? Yes! Fantasy? Yes! Mystery? Historical? Realistic? Absolutely.

Stories with lots of smooching? Not so much.

“If there’s a story you want to read, you can write it,” Savage told the crowd.

Stories, he says, are the way we communicate with each other. They can be told through writing; they can also be told through drawings, through music, by telling them orally or through any other form of creativity. And there is no wrong way of telling a story.

Who, for example, would take seriously a story about a school principal who wears underwear and a cape and is a superhero? Ask author Dav Pilkey, whose Captain Underpants series has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Savage walked Sunnyside students through an exercise where they collaboratively planned their own story. They needed to keep in mind the key elements to an adventure story – protagonist, goal, obstacle and consequences – but with that loose framework, they were free to explore, with no boundaries, and no ideas were off the table.

“This is your story,” Savage reminded them. “It can be a man-eating, tap-dancing cheese-eating squirrel.”

Savage group

Savage reminded the students that their stories matter; they have a voice. And he had them repeat the mantra: “With my awesome talents, I can make a difference.”

“Every person in this room has amazing talents,” he says. “You might not know what they are; you may be afraid to share them. But they’re just what your school and this world needs to make a difference.”

As he visits schools and meets with thousands of students, Savage says his goal is to encourage students to become readers.

“I’ve met way too many adults who didn’t learn to love reading,” he says. “If you want to do one great things for your kids, let them see you reading.”

Because, he says, reading is what opens us up to greater understanding of the world around us. The themes in his books – a government who keeps monsters secret, for example – can open up discussion among children about what the role of government should be in society. Which may sound like a heavy topic for a fourth-grader. But kids, he says, are much smarter than we give them credit for.

We should, Savage says, allow children to access any books in which they show interest. Having these discussion leads to better understanding.

“Let them read whatever they want,” he says. “I’d much rather know what my kids are reading and discuss it.”

Wondering about the story the Sunnyside students collaborated on? It featured a knight who played video games, the requisite princess, a giant pile of every video game ever created, and every knight’s nemesis: Godzilla (who – spoiler alert – can be defeated when a feather tickles his throat).

No rules; no boundaries. Imagination should flow freely.

Reading is the true gateway to knowledge, as well as the great equalizer. “Fiction allows us to explore things we might not do,” Savage says. “Anything that gets kids reading. You want kids to learn that reading is fun and safe.

“There is nothing that helps us to understand each other as much as stories. Now we have different voices all showing their view of the world. Stories change us. The more different voices we have sharing stories, the better we understand each other.”

A teacher and a bus driver? The ultimate multi-tasking falls to this teacher

As Jessica Downs prepares for the school year, she’ll be writing lesson plans, arranging for demonstrations and experiments, and getting her science/social studies classroom in order.

She’ll also be reviewing the parts of a school bus, the mechanics on how it works, and learning how to parallel park.

Downs, a science/social studies teacher at Sunnyside Intermediate School, will be pulling double-duty this fall, as she not only teaches in the classroom but becomes certified to drive a school bus.

Growing up in Carroll County, the bus driver urge was strong; Downs says would ride her bike up and down the street, stopping at mail boxes to pick up “riders” on her bus route.

“When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a teacher and a bus driver,” she says. “Bus drivers and teachers were really influential to me as a kid. All my bus drivers were great growing up. That plays into this. And now, I’m just living the dream – teaching like I wanted to, and now I’m driving a bus.”

Last year, she waited with students who were part of the second route for after-school bus pick-up; the need for drivers means some students have to wait while drivers run their first route. Students were often tired after their long and ready to go home; Downs and Assistant Principal Jason Vandewalle began to joke that maybe she should just get her certification and drive the kids home herself.

Downs began to think, maybe she could help out while achieving her own life-goal of becoming a driver herself.
Downs bus driver

“If I can help out by getting those kids home, by getting them to and from school safely and on time so their education is a priority, why not?”

So, after clearing a few hurdles with the administration – making sure her driving and the additional compensation didn’t cause an accounting hiccup – she started the training in July.

It is much more intensive than she had imagined. Training involves a three-day course through the Indiana Department of Education, followed by hours spent with a trainer. Drivers must memorize what needs to be done and be able to multi-task, all watching the road and the students.

“There’s a lot more that goes into driving a bus than you would think,” Downs says. “You’re not just watching your own bus but watching everyone else to predict what might happen.”

The No. 1 priority of a school bus driver is safety. Always. School buses are, statistically, safer than riding in your own car. Every rule, every policy Downs must learn and follow is about the safety of students, she says. She must learn every part of the bus and be able to explain to the examiner how each part works – as a driver, it will be her job to do a pre-trip inspection to know if her bus needs maintenance.

But she knows, too, that as a bus driver, she will be the first and last point of contact for students. It is just one more way she can connect with students and help them be successful.

“You make such a huge difference,” Downs says. “I try to touch as many lives as I can as a teacher. But being able to start the morning with these kids and be like, hey, you know what? Had a rough morning? That’s OK – let’s leave it on the bus. Let’s get in this class and have a great day.”

Downs will have taken her exam and plans to be behind the wheel after fall break in mid-October. She is excited about helping out the school corporation yet another way – and about fulfilling her own dream to drive a bus.

And she is ready.

“I am super excited,” Downs says. “I definitely have a deeper appreciation for bus drivers.”

But then, she says, she has one more goal.

“I’m going to recruit some more teachers,” Downs says. “My job is not done.”

Amanda Whitaker's long-awaited goal of
becoming a teacher comes true at last
Amanda Whitaker

Amanda Whitaker always wanted to be a teacher.

It’s a dream that has become a reality, as Whitaker is a brand-new teacher at Sunnyside Intermediate School this year. But it was not a given; Whitaker had to work hard for nearly 20 years to finally achieve this goal.

Growing up, she knew she wanted to work with children, to help them and inspire them in a classroom. This was her dream.

But, as can happen, life threw a couple of curveballs her way, and any career goals she might have had were sidelined.

A Lafayette native, Whitaker attended Washington Elementary, Sunnyside and Jefferson High School. She was on track to graduate when her education was interrupted by teenage pregnancy.

Whitaker tried to stay in school; a good student, she said her JHS teachers tried to help her stay on track. But overwhelmed with the late nights and exhaustion that come with caring for an infant, she decided she just could not handle it; her education ended in the tenth grade. By age 19, she was the mother of three, and so consumed with child-rearing that any thoughts of furthering her education were the last thing on her mind.

But when her eldest child was 5, she decided it was time to earn her GED. And then, in 2013, as her children were all in school, she went back to work, working a few hours each day in the cafeteria at Sunnyside.

Whitaker saw every child in the school in her role. And she began to see that, even in small ways, perhaps she could make a difference in their lives.

“I really loved the connection with the kids,” she says. “I began to wonder, what kind of connection could I make if I were in the classroom?”

Whitaker decided she needed to take on a bigger role, so she sought to become a paraprofessional and work in the classroom. She did not have a bachelor’s degree, so she took classes through the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy in order to obtain the required certification. And, as she was a good student, she passed the certification exam and went to work in the classroom at Sunnyside, working with students with emotional disabilities, a job she held for eight years. 

And working in that environment, in a classroom with students, her dreams were reignited.

“As soon as I started there, I knew that’s where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Whitaker felt – and still feels – a passion for helping these children. These students are sometimes seen as “problem” kids, but Whitaker never saw them that way.

“Getting students that other people think are ‘bad’ kids,” she says. “We had expectations in place. Because that’s what they needed to succeed.”

And in time, Whitaker began to think. Her long-ago dream, that lofty goal of becoming a teacher herself? Maybe it was not so unreachable. With the support of Sunnyside staff, she found it in herself to seek out an online college program that she could manage along with work and her family.

It wasn’t always easy, she said. Whitaker did not have a traditional high school experience, so there was some additional learning along the way. With work and family, she was balancing multiple roles. She started out with an old computer, but was able to upgrade to a newer laptop, which ran faster, making her work easier. It took her five years, but she earned her bachelor’s degree in special education, doing her student teaching – where else? – at Sunnyside.

And this fall, she will have her very own classroom as she starts her teaching career right where the dream truly started, here at Sunnyside.

“I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” she says. “It’s my home. They’ve all seen me grow up here.”

The staff at Sunnyside has shown unflagging support for Whitaker as she pursued her education; they could all see her potential.

“From the moment Amanda Whitaker stepped into our classroom, we knew she was meant to be a teacher,” says Julie Koebcke, special education teacher at Sunnyside.  “She threw herself into our program 110 percent and became a teacher in that moment! It has been an amazing process to watch her start where she started and work so hard (all while being a single mom) to reach her goal of becoming a teacher. 

“I have nothing but admiration and pure awe for all that she has endured to get where she is today.  Seeing her sit behind her own desk, in her own classroom when I went to see her yesterday was bittersweet!”


Whitaker says it’s a bit daunting, having her own classroom and all the responsibility that entails. But she is confident in her abilities.

“I’m nervous, but I‘m excited,” she says. “It’s surreal, walking in here, having a key to my own room, decorating my own classroom.” But she knows she is prepared to advocate for her students.

“Some of these kids are told ‘You’re not the perfect, model child.’ And they may not be. But I want them all to feel special. They can be successful; they can go to college.”

For Whitaker, it’s been a long journey to get where she is. She is proud of what she has been able to accomplish – and it’s rewarding to know that her own children, who are all out of school now, are proud of her, too.

“There were times when I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she says. “But I worked hard.”

Whitaker knows she may see bits of her younger self in her students, students who may get off track and feel that they can’t ever succeed. She hopes to inspire them with her own story.

“Keep following your dreams,” she says. “Even if it doesn’t happen in the timeframe you thought, it can still eventually happen. It may have taken me longer and I may have done things backward, but here I am.”

Art With Intention

Red Sand Project

In Ali Broach’s Photography 2 class, students do more than take photos. They take photos with intention.

The purpose of art, Broach teaches her students, is about more than self-expression. It’s about making a statement, pushing the envelope. It’s about thinking beyond ourselves and more about the world.

Which is why Broach’s students were involved in the Red Sand Project. A participatory artwork created by Molly Gochman, the project uses “sidewalk interventions and earthwork installations to create opportunities for people to questions, connect and take action against vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation,” according to the website, redsandproject.org.

Broach encourages her students to choose topics that are meaningful to them for their art. Students this semester put together ad campaigns that used graphics they created; topics included reproductive rights, immigration, trans rights, mental health and toxic masculinity.

“I think it’s important for kids to be able to express themselves,” Broach says. “They’re the future; their voices matter.”

And the students agree; they are excited about the ways in which art can help highlight causes they care deeply about.

“She always talks about how art can push people to feel uncomfortable,” says senior Elin Noerenberg. “But that’s important.”

The Red Sand Project shows, metaphorically, how those people who end up being trafficked can, like the sand, fall through the cracks in society. The stark red of the sand, in contrast with the pavement, makes a striking statement. And students wrote statistics about human trafficking on the sidewalk in front of Jefferson High School.

It’s a project that is meaningful and, for her photography students, photographs well.

“Things like this get the kids thinking about what goes on outside the classroom and what they can change,” Broach says. “I’ve never seen them so excited.

Red Sand 2

This is not Broach’s first foray into public art with her students. They have worked at Durkees Run Stormwater Park, across the street from Jefferson High School. And eight years ago, the students created the Inside Out Project, which featured portraits and statements about the people who work in Jefferson High School. It’s a project that helps communities highlight untold stories

These are lessons, she says, that will stay with students all their lives.

“I thought it was very inspirational,” says junior Dakota Daniels. “We’re showing off our artwork and that’s pretty cool. We're showing people what Jefferson High School can do. We care."

Students are making art with more than aesthetic value; it’s art with a social justice statement. And that is empowering, Broach says.

“The kids enjoy knowing their work makes a difference in their community.”

Purdue Students Bring Change with Positivity, Encouragement

Fab Four One

They call themselves The Fab Four.

The Purdue students looked like giants amongst the third- and fourth-graders at Edgelea. They spoke words of wisdom, sharing advice and encouragement, and had a dance party. All to help students be successful.

These four young men are students at Purdue University. Three of them play football; one studies mechanical engineering. They’re roommates, confidantes. They found each other at Purdue, by happenstance, and they’ve bonded – they’re like brothers now, they say.

But they’ve seen adversity; they’ve had struggles. They have had to work to get where they are. And they’ve persevered, come out on top.

So now, they like to take that message on the road, especially to elementary schools. They want to reassure kids that they, too, can succeed. And these four are here to help.

Malachi Preciado, Nic Caraway, Drew Buban and André Oben visited students at Edgelea Elementary School and led a pep rally – not for sports, but to get the excited about their upcoming ILEARN tests.

“Raise your hands if you like to read,” Oben said at the rally. “I would basically read all day. It’s one of my passions.” The crowd erupted with thunderous applause.

“Why be nervous?” Buban, who studies engineering, asked. “You’re all going to do great on it, right?”

The Fab Four likes to spread encouragement to kids. It’s fun, Preciado says, to visit schools and stir up some genuine enthusiasm. They pose for photos, give high-fives and sign autographs – whatever it takes to get kids excited.

“It feels good to have that impact,” he says. “It also makes us happy. It fills us with joy. It’s nice to get a break from the school life. It’s a great trade-off.”

Fab Four Two

And for these Purdue students, knowing that they could help these youngsters be successful is part of their mission. As football players, they know the power they have.

“It’s great to be impactful in somebody’s life,” Caraway says. “André and I know we look like giants to them. They can see that their dreams are possible. Whatever they want to do, they can go do that.

“I get something out of seeing kids thrive. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t let that fire get put out by anyone. I know how much it means to a kid.”

They are modeling positivity, mentoring and encouragement. It’s a gift they are thrilled to give to the next generation, they say.

“If we could just change one life, make one person’s day better, it’s worth it.”

Reaching for the Stars

Planetarium Huston

Students in Lafayette School Corp. are encouraged to reach for the stars. And they can see them – literally – with the help of the Planetarium at Jefferson High School.

It’s a place where all LSC students, grades K through 12, can learn about the earth, the solar system, the night sky – just like the universe, the possibilities are limitless.

Planetariums were popular in schools that were redesigning their buildings in the 1960s, says Bill Huston, Jefferson High School science teacher and director of the Planetarium. Companies were sending their sales people out to school districts, touting the Space Race and the moon landings. This was also, Huston says, a time of many small rural school districts consolidating, so big building budgets were everywhere. Hence for a fraction of the entire budget, a Planetarium could be added. Though the brand-new Jefferson High School wasn't a consolidation, it was part of a growing community and may have wanted to stay one step ahead of the county schools.

“It was built to be both a classroom and a ‘show‘ room,” Huston says. “Most of the elementary schools in LSC came to the planetarium for a show once or twice a year for its first few years. I don't know of any public shows, but that's something that takes a bit more infrastructure.”

The Planetarium at JHS is somewhat unique, says Huston. There are dozens of school district planetariums in Indiana and the Midwest. Though some have fallen on hard times and are removed or neglected due to lack of qualified staff or funding; as technology changes and advances, schools often can’t find the funds to keep the facility up to date. Thus many high school planetariums gets phased out.

Yet the uses for the Planetarium are not difficult to justify, says Huston.

“Incorporating it into the curriculum is easy, really, since there are many space-related standards for nearly all grade levels,” he says. “In addition, we can reach outside the standards to related topics that might not be listed but certainly are relevant and important. The Earth/Space Science classes make a trip or two to the planetarium, as well, since that is in their curriculum, but it's difficult for me since I have to get a substitute for my classroom when the other teachers bring their students there.”

The Planetarium is used often; it is the classroom for the Astronomy class, and the Earth/Space science classes at Jeff make a few trips. Elementary school classrooms from LSC, Tippecanoe and West Lafayette school corporations, and even home-school groups and private schools come for presentations. The past two summers, LSC has had a summer session for migrant workers' children, so they have made a trip over to the Planetarium and reportedly loved it. In addition, scout troops come to work on their space badge; a couple of senior citizen groups have also come for presentations.

Huston has collaborated with Purdue groups to do some fun science activities; the local amateur astronomy club has arranged to come a few times; and he hosted the Indiana division of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association for the annual meeting in 2016. At the end of the first semester a few years ago, he presented a meditation show (that was provided for free from Ball State's planetarium) for the Jeff faculty over several days and for several periods. (“I wish I had been able to do that for every period for the staff,” he said.)

Huston came to JHS in the fall of 1987 and started teaching astronomy in the Planetarium in the spring semester. The two previous directors of the Planetarium were both still teaching at JHS, and one of them still handled elementary school shows, but those were fading away.

“I think about 1991 or ’92 I did my first elementary school show,” he recalls. “It was fun! It was loud.”

Kids in Planetarium

In 1997, former Superintendent Dr. Ed Eiler spearheaded money for new carpeting, new seats, a new sound system, and some other technology upgrades. Huston received grants of $44,000 from the Alcoa Foundation and $5,000 from Lowe's Toolbox for Teachers in 2009 to put toward some advanced Planetarium technology that included a powerful computer, LED cove lights with 10,000 levels of fade, and a "Full Dome" projection system (which didn't get installed until 2017). The lights were assisted by LSC to the tune of $10,000.

Also in 2009, the planetarium was awarded two huge, color images from NASA's "Great Observatories" series, one of only 150 sites in the country to get them. In 2004 and 2012 Huston held some free public planetarium shows about the "Transit of Venus" and followed those up with public viewings of those events with special solar filters on some telescopes. Those were lots of fun, he says, and lots of people came through.

“I've been trying to upgrade what we present through the Full Dome system,” Huston says. “But those shows are extremely expensive ($2,000 to $5,000 for a two-three-year contract). And to make the Full Dome experience the best it can be, we really need the ceiling cleaned and painted (or replaced), and we need a better projector for that system. Through these years we have gained several telescopes that have allowed the Jeff Astronomy Club and me to host outside public gatherings to view the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and other celestial objects through the telescopes. Public outreach is fun.”

The Planetarium has always been – and still is – a vital resource for learning, for exposing students to science, and for engaging our students in learning in a way not all districts can. Huston is committed to continuing these offerings if at all possible.

“I would love to have something to show as a ‘public show’ and charge admission and make money for the planetarium, but that takes some technology that we don't have, some logistics for an evening event, and it takes time,” he says.

The Planetarium is a valued resource, one LSC can be proud of. Huston has seen over and over how students react on these visits.

“Year after year, children come to this planetarium and are really excited. High school kids get excited about it. Clearly it has value to a big portion of the community, and its potential value hasn't been reached.”

Baby Steps on Infant Care


On Friday, Feb. 17, students in Mrs. Foster’s Child Development class took home some extra-complicated homework: a baby.

Not a real baby, of course – but almost. Six students took home RealCare baby infant simulators. This “smart baby” doll is programmed to need feeding, changing and burping; the tracking knows if it has been mishandled – shaken, handled roughly, or the head not held up properly.

It’s all part of a lesson on the challenges of caring for an infant. The students took the babies home for 48 hours of care. The babies needed to be fed, changed, held and cared for. And if their needs are not met, they cry until their caregiver can discern what they need – just like an actual baby.

The students returned their babies to school after their weekend of caregiving – except for one student, who forgot their baby at home. And those mistakes are a critical part of the lesson – Mrs. Foster had to remind the class that those errors, in real life, would result in a call to Child Protective Services.

The students admitted to being a bit intimidated by the prospect of caring for a newborn for an entire weekend. Ayden Conley, 15, a freshman, said it was definitely a learning experience.

“I was really excited to take it home,” he said. “But I was kind of nervous for the crying.”

His baby interrupted his video games by crying. But Conley adapted, learning how to hold the baby while he played. At one point, he got overwhelmed and just walked away, telling his mother he needed to take a walk. He returned, figured out how to hold the baby on his chest, and resumed gaming.

Sophomore Lamiah Hannon has helped out with her younger siblings, so she thought she knew what she was in for.

“I knew it was going to be some work,” she said. “But it wasn’t like that at all.”

She took the baby out to eat with her family Friday night. The baby cried right where their orders arrived, which she found embarrassing. And her baby had her up every two hours in the night.

“Saturday was terrible,” she said. “It kept waking me up in the middle of the night. That baby knew on Saturday I just wanted to relax.”

Ninth-grader Jaycie Saltsman said she, too, expected the baby to be work. And she knew the baby would cry, but she was unprepared for the reality.

“It screams!” she said. “It just gradually gets louder. It was embarrassing when I had it out in public. We had to find a bathroom.”

She had her challenges trying to get the baby to sleep and to stop crying. Along with some other real-life complications: she would have liked a girl, yet she was given a boy. 

The students all agreed that finding out what the different cries meant was challenging, and there was some satisfaction in figuring them out, then meeting the babies’ needs. Sometimes, they said, nothing would work, which was very stressful.

It was a lesson in the time commitment and sacrifice required to care for an infant. In some cases, a hard lesson. One student admitted to leaving the baby in the car while out shopping. Upon realizing what she had done, she loudly exclaimed that she had to go and get her baby out of the car. Another shopper, overhearing her, commented, “I don’t think she’s ready to have kids yet.”

Which was a sentiment shared by all the students. They learned a lot not only about baby care, but about everything that is involved. Freedom is lost when a baby comes along, one boy said. High school students have educations to finish, lives to lead. A baby does not fit into that plan. No one, it seems, was ready for that kind of responsibility.

“At least not right now,” Hannon said. “Maybe someday.”

Applied Educational Neuroscience:
Giving Students Tools to Succeed

Elementary students at Amelia Earhart Elementary gather in a circle to start their day. After some breathing exercises, they take a few minutes for a voluntary check-in, where they may share any concerns. The check-ins vary, with one boy worried about his sick dog, another girl anxious about her younger sister, who is ill. Some students prefer not to speak, listening respectfully while others give a brief update. After each student shares their story, the facilitator, Jacqui Grider, looks at them and, with empathy in her voice, says softly, “You have been heard.”
AEN Learning 1

This opening to the day is just one of the hallmarks of Applied Educational Neuroscience in the classroom. Grider is the director of the program, which is designed to help students manage emotions and cope, so that they may better succeed in their education.

These lessons and goals are not new. But with research that has been gathered over the past decades, we now know more about the developing brain, says Grider. And we know that helping students regulate these emotions can make it easier for them to be successful and learn.

Grider helps students identify the parts of the brain and which emotions correspond. She breaks them down into eight emotions; not a comprehensive list, but a number they can handle. And she helps them understand different methods of managing these emotions. It’s akin to what we know as the “fight or flight” syndrome – when put in stressful situations, even adults have difficulty knowing how to respond and are prone to simply “freak out,” terrified. By teaching children how to respond appropriately, or how to understand why they feel and respond as they do, they are then better able to process these reactions, clearing their heads in order to focus on learning.

And we now know that being proactive and teaching children in a positive way can lead to fewer disruptive behaviors down the road.

The lessons don’t end with children; they are equally suitable for adults. Just as an Apple Watch reminds its users to breathe every hour, Grider teaches adults to stop and take cleansing breaths periodically throughout the day. Taking these “brain breaks” can help us reset internally, allowing people to make better decisions in stressful situations.

Kids AEN

As part of the program, LSC secured a grant, along with Tippecanoe School Corp., that will fund Teen Cafés, giving high-school students a place to meet and talk with trained facilitators.

Grider takes these messages into classrooms; she also sends mini-lessons out to faculty and staff in the district.

Each of these steps, individually and collectively, helps students cope and deal with external stress in their lives. An act as simple as greeting students at the door each morning can aid in creating this safe learning environment. And once students know they are in a safe space, they are more likely to thrive. Grider coaches teachers on how to maintain this structure and routine.

Relationships. Brain breaks. Connections. All of these, says Grider, lead to a more positive environment, which will enhance learning. And we shouldn’t be afraid to make any changes that will benefit students.

“Student wellness equates to student success,” she says. “When we know better, we do better.”

For more about Applied Educational Neuroscience, visit the Applied Educational Neuroscience page.