Bioscience wins national award for college and career readiness efforts

Students gather around tables to work on homework at Bioscience High School on Aug. 31, 2016. (Nick Serpa/DD)

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning recognized Bioscience High School with their Exemplar award, acknowledging the school excels in preparing students for college and careers.

The organization, also referred to as P21, is dedicated to modernizing education by recognizing exceptional educational institutions and connecting them with other organizations, including those in the education, business, government and community sectors.

Bioscience is the only individual school in Arizona to be honored as an Exemplar school. The only other educational institution in the state to be recognized with the same award is the Catalina Foothills Unified School District in Tucson.

P21 has a list of criteria for Exemplar school curriculums, including proficiency in all major school subjects, information and media literacy, and innovation. The organization also looks for schools or educational institutions that foster critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.

Andrew White, a Spanish teacher at Bioscience High School, was one of the school’s faculty members most involved in submitting materials to apply for Exemplar recognition.

White said he wrote some of the submission materials, while others needed to be gathered from students, parents and community members who were involved.

After submitting the materials, representatives from P21 conducted a site visit in May, which included a tour of the school and interviews with parents and faculty involved.

Bioscience has several initiatives focused on college and career readiness, including the Sustainable Transformation Framework, or STF, and a senior year internship program.

The STF program requires freshmen at the school to think of a problem in their communities, then embark on a multiyear project to help solve that problem. During the process, students conduct research and planning to determine how to achieve their goals.

Melanie Engstrom, a science teacher at Bioscience, said she believes the STF program is especially important for the school’s STEM-focused curriculum.

“It’s an interesting, relevant process that is so heavy in our scientific and engineering and technology and mathematical sort of field now, “ Engstrom said. “It’s just something that a STEM school needs to have.”

Furthering the idea of 21st century learning, Bioscience requires senior students to take on an internship at a local organization.

The internships are tailored to each student’s individual interests. Beginning in the summer before a student’s senior year, students are required to accumulate 200 hours of internship time throughout the school year.

Engstrom said most students get internships in the local area at organizations such as the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen, and Arizona State University’s downtown campus to work in a clinical setting.

Alexander Delgado-Garcia, a Bioscience graduate who now attends Claremont McKenna College in California, interned at the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Delgado-Garcia said he found the program to be useful.

“I personally found it very productive, very helpful,” he said.

He added that he believes the program prepared him for life after college, going beyond most high schools’ college preparation.

“Bioscience just really helped me out in the sense of being more independent,” Delgado-Garcia said.

Delgado-Garcia said he thinks his former high school exemplifies P21’s values, and said he thinks the school is more than deserving of the award.

“I feel like it should have come sooner,” he said.

White said winning the award affirms that the teachers and programs at the school are being successful in their efforts to help students.

“For me, I think it’s an affirmation of our efforts as a campus,” White said. “It’s validation that what we’re doing is best for our students, and it’s really satisfying to be honored in such a way.”

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