Two-year deep dives in Laguna Blanca

Two Year Deep Dives in Laguna Blanca

The scientific research program is the last avenue for motivated students

Staci Richard (center) is the head of Laguna Blanca’s scientific research program. | Credit: Courtesy

Laguna Blanca has long been known for its signature programs. With titles like Mission to Mars, Soapbox Derby, Urban Adventures and its TEDx lectures – which return in February after last year’s pandemic hiatus – the independent school is embracing project-based learning.

A recent addition, launched in 2017-18, is the Scientific Research Program, a two-year study program for students motivated to pursue an invigorating and “deeply uplifting odyssey in the weeds of scientific research,” said Tara Broucqsault, school communications manager. director.

Heading the program, Staci Richard said it has grown significantly from its initial cohort to reach just over 40% of eligible students.

The scientific research program begins in grade 10 by developing each student’s understanding of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field and teaching them to read research papers and expose them to a range of speakers and focus groups to help channel their enthusiasm.

In 11th grade, students choose an accent – examples include solar power, aquaculture, robotics, AI, and Alzheimer’s disease research, among other activities – for a full-year guided dive by mentors, most of whom are based in Santa Barbara. (Last year, via Zoom, the program pioneered remote mentoring, some with out-of-state experts, Richard said.)

This second year consists of an in-depth examination of a specific area. At the end of the year, it is transformed into a comprehensive report and final presentation to an audience of peers, parents, mentors, teachers, and Laguna Blanca board members. These presentations are essentially 15-minute “lectures,” Richard explains, and include visuals, audience questions, and a recap of the student’s two-year STEM journey.

All of this is supported by the recently opened Laguna Center for Science and Innovation, anchored by new biology and chemistry labs and the Nakamura STEM Research & Innovation Lab, an interdisciplinary creative space for 3D design and robotics. . “It’s an important part of the program,” said Richard.

“It can be difficult to ask kids to do real research,” she explained. “It’s a long process, and they see how difficult it can be. Sometimes I feel like they’re doing undergraduate research. And as these students go to college, we find that they are more confident in meeting and speaking with professors and having access to research labs.

It’s a big plus, she says. But the flip side can also be good. “Some students learn along the way that they really don’t care about what they thought was interesting. And that was another great result.

Either way, she added, their eyes opened to a much wider range of STEM careers than they would normally see in high school. “And it’s been a great way for the kids of Laguna Blanca to enjoy the great things happening in Santa Barbara,” said Richard. “They connect with doctors, technicians, and nonprofits. It was a way of building community.

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