For Mathew Duncan, May 24 was not a conventional school day at Bridge Academy. He was all dressed up with a well-suited tie. In the 24-by-36-foot classroom on the school’s first level, he took a look at the screen where in a few minutes he would make his point about facts related to forensic science.
He had to impress a dozen judges who would evaluate his performance.
It was all part of the senior project program at Bridge Academy School, a charter school located at 389 Kossuth St. in Bridgeport. The school has been operating since 1997. Students are admitted to the school through a lottery system that takes place in June of each year.
The project is designed to be the culminating event of the high school experience, preparing students for the rigors and challenges of college.
Mathew took a look at his notes and began, “Forensic science pertains to court-of-justice disputation and legal proceeding.” He went on with a well-organized presentation that covered the earliest days of forensics to the present times. He pointed out that he feels great admiration for Connecticut’s own Dr. Henry Lee, one of the world’s leading pathologists.
Mathew’s PowerPoint presentation provided and defined terms commonly used in the field: DNA, pathology, crime scene, fingerprint, forensic biology. He also identified agencies and offices such as the FBI, Office of Strategic Services and the Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System.
He turned to the screen and presented a detailed chart of how DNA works, noting that, “because of DNA, many cases have been solved.” He explained that just a tiny piece of hair could be the key to solve a complicated case.
Jose Pimentel is the teacher in charge of the senior project program. In an exclusive interview with the Fairfield County Independent, he said, “The project started in 1998. Originally, the purpose was to keep senior students occupied.
“In the last year of high school, students normally are very active,” he Pimentel. “Later, we saw the advantage to make the connection to the CAP (competency and placement) test,” he said.
Pimentel said the program has two components: a written part and a PowerPoint presentation. The students have to prepare a book with all the components of their presentation.
A closer look at Mathew’s PowerPoint presentation and written book revealed the use of graphs, charts, numbers, facts, statistics and the people who made contribution in the field.
Giving back to the community is another component of the project, said Pimentel. He added the project took a big boost when administrators decided to involve people from the community as judges. He said that at the beginning, the judges were students, teachers and staff. But when people from the community were invited to be judges, he noted the level of the students’ effort increased. “The more we asked from them, the more they gave in terms of performance,” Pimentel said.
Shoff Darby of Fairfield, one of this year’s judges, is the owner of Dirk Vanderblue, a company that provides various kinds of insurance. He said he enjoys the project interaction so much that he participated in most of the presentations.
Students pick topic
Students have the opportunity to select the topic of their choice. Most of them selected subjects related to career fields they want to pursue in college. In addition to Mathew’s talk on forensic science, other topics covered this year included the feminist movement, music production, psychology, marine biology, sneakers, architecture and journalism.
Rayne Hodgson was a science teacher at the school, but remained in the project as a volunteer. She helps in different areas. Most often, she collects the scoring guide, the knowledge sections and evaluator suggestions. She makes recommendations and provides positive reinforcement to the students.
Samanta Santos was one of the judges at Mathew’s presentation. She graduated from Bridge Academy several years ago and just graduated from the University of Connecticut with a major in sociology. She said she usually serves as judge in the program because she wants to give back to the community.
At the end of a presentation, the judges complete an evaluation questionnaire. They assign points to various aspects, including presentation, material used, graph, charts and expression. They also make recommendations and ask questions.
At the end, Mathew answered all questions with determination and authority. It showed he was prepared and dominated the subject. When Darby asked why he had chosen his topic, he hesitated. The words didn’t come out of his mouth as easy as they had minutes before. Tears came to his eyes as he answered, “I used to live in New York. My best friend was killed and they never found who did it.” He went on to explain how his father had taken him to the place where they conducted the autopsy on his friend’s body. He said he had the opportunity to see part of the investigation and since then, he knew he wanted to study forensic science in college.
Most of the judges agreed Mathew Duncan did an excellent job and awarded well above 90s to the overall presentation. Many commented that similar projects should be implemented in other schools.