Education column: Freshman academy applies lessons to real-world situations

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy

When I walked in the CHS Freshman Academy library, imagine my surprise at almost tripping over a “body” sprawled across the floor behind yellow police tape, surrounded by tire tracks, shell casings, and blood spatters.

Ok, ok… it was just a mannequin, the central focus of a unique project under way.

Librarian, Janita Stanfield, gestured to the tables and chairs stacked at the side, and offered, smiling “…yet another use for the library…” as she described how amazingly it was pulling together students and teachers by applying learning to a real-world scenario, correcting some of the Hollywood hype. Just then a teacher arrived with her class, and students broke into groups that quickly went to work processing the crime scene.

I sidled up to a group to ask what they were doing. They explained that they were the sketch team, another was crime scene logging, and another was the ballistics team.

It was truly impressive to see all the students, most with their surgical gloves and other accessories working together intently, demonstrating such competence and efficiency.

The skills these students were using had been acquired in pre-learning sessions, courtesy of Agents David O’Leary and Gary King from the New Mexico State Police. They were at school several days earlier with a hard-hitting presentation for students, including fingerprinting skills, footprint castings, learning about actual cases, use of an “alternative light source” to examine the walls of one of the boys’ restrooms, which was … well, never mind.

Science teacher Corinthia Hall had first explained the project as the re-enactment of an actual historic event. Sacco and Vanzetti, a highly politicized case from the 1920’s, had caused quite an uproar because of questions as to the actual guilt or innocence and fairness of their trials.

The whole concept of cross-curricular team teaching is still relatively new to us here in Clovis, and it requires a lot of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking and work on the part of teachers and administrators. This idea, originating with high-energy Nikki Hahn, biology teacher, quickly caught fire, and the other core teachers enthusiastically developed a unit, aligned with the state standards, that has provided a uniquely engaging learning experience ultimately involving every student and every teacher at CHSFA.

For example, history classes researched historical aspects, science classes covered a variety of skills in constructing and processing the crime scene, math classes covered required skills in the process of recording elements at the crime scene and measuring vectors of the blood splatter and English classes will be involved with preparing witness statements and other documents for the trial.

Interestingly, during the course of this project, attendance has improved, and students have been overheard in the hallways discussing the case.

The jury is still out at this point: When the unit is completed during coming weeks, it’ll be interesting to see what verdict these critical thinking ninth graders come up with.

Well done, CHSFA.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at