Students at Dover-Sherborn High School won't have to read about today's medical breakthroughs in a textbook years from now. This fall, they'll be conducting the experiments used in cloning and in-vitro inside their own biology lab.
"They've heard about stem cell research in the news; they've seen the DNA used on the crime shows," said Charlie Chicklis, head of the school's science department. "Now students can actually get involved in these labs,"
Dover-Sherborn is just one of 50 public schools across Massachusetts to receive a BioTeach grant of up to $24,000 from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 2001 to work with the state's leading biotechnology, life sciences, and pharmaceutical companies.
The annual $1.2 million BioTeach program, supported by the state Legislature, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and donations from the state's leading life science companies, aims to establish biotechnology as an integral component of the state's public high school curriculum.
This year, the recipients include Waltham and Medway high schools. Since the BioTeach program's introduction four years ago, 163 high schools across the state have received a grant.
"This is an in-depth opportunity for teachers to learn how to teach biotech," said Lance Hartford, executive director of the grant-awarding foundation. "These are things most of them didn't have the opportunity to learn when they were in school. Now their students will be able to work with things like cell transformation, and with gels that identify certain traits within cells."
The grant provides professional training this summer for teachers to learn lab curricula surrounding DNA fingerprinting, potential of bacteria, and the mystery surrounding sickle cell anemia. In addition to training, teachers will have access to professional development tools, and a comprehensive catalogue of online research. Then they will bring their new skills to the high school laboratories.
Biology teacher Greg Tucker is one of three from Dover-Sherborn High School planning to attend BioTeach summer training sessions, which are held at locations throughout the state, including Boston University and Framingham State College.
"It's exciting for the school. If it weren't for this grant, the equipment costs would certainly be an issue as we try to get into a budget," said Tucker.
The idea is that the money that goes into the high schools through BioTeach will make its way back into the state's economy.
"Biotechnology and life sciences is the largest growing sector of the economy," said Hartford.
State figures back up the claim, showing more than 43,000 residents employed in biotechnology fields. According to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, employment in life-science sectors grew by 15 percent between 2001 and 2006, while the overall state employment growth declined by 2.4 percent.
"The industry is concerned that there will not be enough people to keep that going," said Hartford. "We're trying to get more students involved and interested in biotech, and to understand how many careers there are out there."
A high school graduate could become an animal technician, for example. Someone with an associate's degree might turn out to be a biological technician. And one with a biotechnology-related bachelor's degree could end up a health specialist - someone who monitors and evaluates the workplace to identify and control safety and health risks.
"Biotech is so big right now, whether it's a job involving food, energy, or medicine," said Tucker.