Kids get real-life view of 'CSI Brentwood'
Eighth-grade social studies teacher Chris Pierce quickly took attendance at the beginning of the program.
As students talked among themselves and answered roll call, a man in a black jacket, sweat pants and ball cap standing in a corner of the room, snatched a black leather computer bag off the floor and fled into the third floor hall at Brentwood Middle School.
Students screamed and clamored as they witnessed the crime.
“What just happened?” a girl at the edge of the room shouted.
The “thief” was Brentwood Borough police Officer Josh Scott, and the students, unbeknownst to them, were participating in a program about witness identification.
An interdisciplinary program for eighth-graders at Brentwood Middle School last Friday focused on various facets of crime scene investigation. Students learned how to fingerprint a person, take DNA, test powders and substances left at a scene, study bone fragments and trace blood splatter from a stabbing, beating or piercing of an arterial artery.
All of this was done with the assistance of the Brentwood Borough police department, Allegheny County Medical Examiners Office and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“It's something they all see on TV,” Brentwood Borough police Sgt. Matthew DeLallo said. “There's a tremendous amount of make-believe on TV. This gives them a real life view of what CSI is.”
Students had the opportunity to analyze and interpret the scenes, using science and math, said eighth-grade math teacher Lynne Golvash said.
“There are a lot of real-life applications that are involved,” she said.
Each portion of the day-long program was a learning process for students about all of the aspects that go into solving a crime, Principal David Radcliffe said.
“It's important for them to learn that there's such specific skills that are needed for various careers,” he said.
As students worked to identify the suspect that had stolen the computer bag, they learned about how the brain works and why each person remembers things differently.
The students completed a suspect description form, where they — just minutes after seeing Scott take the bag from the classroom — needed to describe details about him.
Their results varied.
Some students identified the thief as wearing a red or green hat, others thought he was wearing jeans, or was of a large built, DeLallo said, as he reviewed the answers. One person even recorded that he was of Asian descent.
In reality, Scott, a white, medium-built man, is about 5-feet-10. He wore a black hat, sweat pants and a dark jacket.
“Everybody sees things a little different,” DeLallo said. “Some of you were spot on.”
Where the students were sitting in the room played a big part in how accurate they were, DeLallo said. Many internal and external factors can change a perception on what they think they witnessed, he said.
Eighth-grader Michael Reed, 13, said he was shocked by what he saw, but was able to get most of the description correct.
“I couldn't even process it,” he said.
Yet, eighth-grader Shane Yarsky, 14, said he assumed Scott was a school volunteer and didn't pay any attention to him after he entered the room and missed him taking the bag.
“Pay more attention to detail. You never know who's going to do something and you never know when you're going to get called on to help identify someone,” said Yarsky, who said he is interested in crime scene investigation as a possible career.
“I just like the idea of trying to investigate things,” he said.
That's part of what the program was about, DeLallo said.
“If it's something they have an interest in, this could encourage and inspire them,” he said of the hands-on learning projects. “This kind of involvement is what I believe separates the Brentwood Borough School District from other places. You have a group of professionals that truly care about their students.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.