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Special to the Herald
CSI, Dexter, and other popular crime-based television shows may not renew their cases until the fall, but for a group of students at Cheshire Academy, this summer has proven the perfect time for crime scene investigation.
For the past four weeks, these students have been hard at work studying forensic science—everything from fingerprinting and blood spatter analysis, to blood typing and footprint analysis—as part of ACCESS Cheshire.
This accelerated program of study, offered through the Academy, caters to students entering seventh through tenth grades. The 60 participants this year come from all over the United States, as well as 12 other countries.
Each student in the program has the opportunity to select a field of interest to study, called an academic cluster. These clusters “are composed of three different courses that provide different lenses” on a particular topic, explains program director Diane Cook. “It gives the kids a very broad view of what’s involved in that field.” Each course serves eight to twelve students.
The “Crime Scene Investigation” cluster offers instruction in forensic science, digital photography as a tool of investigation, and detective literature. Tanya Kores, a teacher at Cheshire High School, conducts the forensic science component, a condensed version of the much more in-depth forensics class she offers at the high school.
“I started the class at Cheshire High seven years ago,” recalls Kores. “This was a subject I was always interested in.”
Aware of the successful class, Cook sought out Kores to teach the course at ACCESS Cheshire. The curriculum this summer included a great amount of hands-on forensic work.
“The students did some basic analysis of hair and fiber, focused mostly on microscope work,” Kores commented. “They did shoeprint analysis. They did blood typing analysis. They did a small amount of blood spatter analysis. And they did some fingerprint lifting as well as handwriting analysis.”
In the final week of the program, Kores and her fellow teachers decided to test the their knowledge with a field practicum. They used an empty classroom to stage a crime scene, divided the students into teams, and asked them to use various types of analysis to identify the culprit from a list of suspects.
In this project, Kores not only asked her students to apply practical knowledge, but also challenged them to think critically. “Watching the students put the pieces together and have those ‘aha’ moments, that’s my favorite part,” said Kores. “And also watching them struggle, because sometimes the answer isn’t obvious and they have to put in a little more effort and time to put the pieces together.”
Pete Cameron, a hall monitor at Cheshire High and a retired police officer, teaches the digital photography component of the course, but he also serves as an invaluable resource to both the students and Kores.
“He’s such an asset because anything having to do with crime scenes, he’s been there, he’s done it,” Kores noted. “Anything I can’t answer, he can answer, and vice versa. This summer has been fantastic in regards to being able to complement each other.” Additionally, Kores’ former student from the high school, Matt Costello, assisted in the course.
Kores also had support from outside sources that offered the students the chance to observe forensic science as a field beyond the classroom. The students took a trip to the University of New Haven, where Pete Massey, a former Cheshire Board of Education member and professor at the university walked the students through several old cases, and how investigators went about solving them.
Student Khamera Murphy of Stamford, an eighth grader, gushed about that experience. “It was so great to see actual crime scenes and pictures of what it really looked like,” says Murphy.
Murphy originally took the class because “I’ve always been interested in CSI stuff and murder cases,” she explained. “And after this class, I definitely want to keep doing forensic science.”
For the students who may wish to delve more deeply into the field, Cheshire Academy is hoping to offer an advanced CSI class next year. “An advanced section would help to complete the course because these students have just gotten a taste for it,” stated Kores.
And as for the television shows that have so popularized her field, Kores definitely plays off of them. “I tell the students, ‘you know how on these shows, a few people do everything?’ That doesn’t really happen.”
Instead, she impresses upon them the commitment and in-depth knowledge required for the field. Nevertheless, “if you have an interest in forensic science, you can do it if you put the time in,” Kores insisted. “If a student is interested, I can teach them how to lift a print. I can teach them how to analyze a blood sample. And I can teach them how to investigate a crime.”