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Woonsocket High takes bio-tech leap

May 8, 2011

WOONSOCKET — In an era when the only talk about education seems to focus on ways to cut back, science teacher Claire Laquerre has somehow found a way to improve the science classroom facilities used by students at the high school.
Laquerre and a team of willing volunteers, both staff and students, yesterday unveiled a new bio-technology lab that they admit was put together with a little begging and a little borrowing.
The in-house renovation project also benefitted from some in kind contributions by Laquerre herself and other members of the Science Department.
Laquerre believes the work put in over the past year to create the new science room is well worth the effort and will help local students find careers in the fast growing bio-technology job market.
“We have to start exposing them to bio-technology in high school so students will know what it is and want to get involved in it as a career,” she said.
While the new classroom space and adjoining science laboratory look as if they were put together by a contractor hired to renovate the school space, looks can be deceiving. The lab stations are actually recycled furniture Laquerre was able to procure from a University of Rhode Island science building that was torn down to make way for a new building at the campus. The classroom study tables were assembled from components acquired at local businesses and installed with the help of students from the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.
Laquerre also worked with science teacher Michael Ferry to reuse some of the equipment already owned by the science department to set up an aquaculture tank and brought over student lockers from the old middle to be refurbished for classroom storage.
The University of Rhode Island also contributed a state-of the-art inverted microscope under a loaner program that gives local students access to a piece of equipment normally reserved for college instruction.
The digital microscope is linked to the classroom’s computer system and Laquerre can put its images up on a big screen display during a lesson. The classroom also has student digital microscopes purchased with grant funding that allow students to store their observations on the classroom computers.
The equipment now in place at the high school allows local science students to learn the techniques of electrophoresis, more commonly know as DNA fingerprinting. They will also be able to study genetically modified organisms and work on plant cloning projects.
Laquerre said the lab will help students participating in the state Department of Education's new three-year bio-technology curriculum earn a bio-technology completion certificate in addition to their Woonsocket High School diploma.
One of Laquerre's students, Sierra Valois, a senior, has already decided to pursue bio-technology through the University of Rhode Island this coming fall.
Another student in the program, Tyler Plante, a junior, is looking forward to joining a pharmacy program in college. Plante was among the volunteers putting in long hours to help refurbish the new classroom and lab
“It is one of my favorite classes,” Plante said. Next year Plante said he and other students in the program will be working on a project studying the growth and development of Zebra fish raised in classroom.
Helen Pang, a student teacher from Brown University working with Laquerre this year, said students in the program are fortunate to have access to the equipment available in the new lab.
“It's equipment you wouldn't normally find in a high school science lab,” she said. Pang graduated from the Boston Latin School in 2006 and noted she “didn't have anything like this,” while studying science at the school.
“A lot of this equipment is what you would find in a university science lab,” she said. Pang also credited the students like Plante for working hard to put the lab together. “They were really dedicated to getting the lab up and running,” she said.
While the high school was able to tap Perkins career education grants for some of the funding needed for the renovation project, Laquerre admits it would not have turned out as well as it did without the special donations from URI state Board of Regents member Betsy Shimberg helped organized with other state officials. The lab work stations would have been demolished with the old building and yet ended up in Woonsocket after refinishing work by Laquerre and her volunteers.
Laquerre, who contributed as much $1,200 of her own money to the project, said she would not have been able to complete the job without the help of volunteers such as high school custodian Ray Duquette, and Ferry, who also covered some of the costs personally.
The result and potenial impact on her students was well worth all the work and worry, according Laquerre.
“When I first got involved in this project this was just an empty room,” Laquerre said while looking around the new bio-technology laboratory.

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