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A Learning Epidemic - Students Immerse Themselves in Studying Bacteria

July 14, 2010
A Learning Epidemic Students immerse themselves in studying bacteria By Victoria A.F. Camron © 2010 Longmont Times-Call LAFAYETTE — More than 30 local middle-school students are spending five weeks this summer at Alexander Dawson School learning about bacteria, epidemics and pandemics. And they think it’s really cool. Since June 9, the students have met with experts in communicable disease from Boulder County Public Health, Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center and the University of Colorado hospital, as well as writers and scholars. But the students aren’t just listening, taking notes and preparing for a test. They are preparing projects to teach elementary school students the importance of washing their hands and cleaning their desks to prevent the spread of disease. Hunter Baeza of Erie participated in last year’s program and returned this summer. “The topic they decided to do this year seemed really fun,” said Hunter, 13, who attends Angevine Middle School in Lafayette. The Dawson Center summer school program is created and financed by the Alexander Dawson Foundation, which started the Dawson school here and in Las Vegas. Students must apply to attend the Dawson Center’s summer school, but recommendations from teachers and counselors carry more weight than achievement, said Kevin Cloud, executive director of the Dawson Center. The program is free for students. The summer school, which is not connected to Alexander Dawson School, is aimed at public school students; students from independent schools such as Dawson are not even allowed to apply, said Lisa Michael, Dawson Center’s academic adviser. “We’re trying to make this a place where it’s cool to be smart,” Michael said. Two years ago, Dawson Center administrators began organizing this year’s summer school theme — Epidemic: Past and Present — Cloud said. As they researched the theme, the administrators found that one of the biggest ways to prevent infection is simply washing your hands. “It hit a sweet spot,” Cloud said, because kids understand it and it’s easy for the foundation to support. “It’s really important.” “We all share our skills with each other,” said student Shaina Levison, 12, who attends Heritage Middle School in Longmont. She is writing and acting in skits about hand washing, staying home when you are sick and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. The skits will be filmed and presented to younger students. “That means we’re actually using what we’ve done here to help people,” Shaina said. The Foundation will support the hygiene campaign by funding materials, such as posters and DVDs, and arranging for students to visit the elementary schools for as long as the students want to participate, Cloud said. Some students also are working on a live show that illustrates how bacteria become immune to antibiotics. They will perform during the Center’s closing event July 9 at the University of Colorado. “The mission of the skit is to communicate how easily a disease can spread,” said Karl Doertenbach, 12, of Erie. Karl attends Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette. Twelve-year-old Daisy Fuchs, who attends Angevine Middle School, said she never thought much about how spreading bacteria can made other people sick. Already, her family has become more conscientious about hygiene, she said. And she really likes the idea of sharing her knowledge with elementary school students. “That’s really cool. My brother’s going into third grade, and he’s a germ magnet,” Daisy said.