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SEHS students get down, dirty and bloody with forensics class

POSTED: December 15, 2011 6:39 p.m.
Photo by Calli Arnold/

Ashlee Griffith, 17, and Tanner Silver, 17, from Cynthia Dean’s forensic science class at South Effingham High School take measurements at a mock crime scene during a lab constructed and supervised by GBI crime scene investigators Jamie O’Sullivan and Tony Lima.

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Monday morning most students at South Effingham High School didn’t know what to think as part of the cafeteria had been blocked off with crime yellow scene tape.

But Cynthia Dean’s forensic science students sprang into action with a little help from Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agents Tony Lima and Jamie O’Sullivan.

The cafeteria scene was one of the last labs for the forensic students, tapping into each of their previous lessons to utilize all the skills the students have learned this semester about processing a crime scene and determining what happened. The GBI agents staged the scene with fake blood, dummies to play the bodies, broken glass and points of entry and exit.

“We’re trying to dispel the ‘CSI’ effect where everybody thinks it’s just quick,” said Dean.

“They’re learning that it’s frustrating, tedious, and it just doesn’t work they way they see it on TV.”

This is the first semester that SEHS has offered forensic science as a fourth science for juniors and seniors. The course was meant to offer an alternative to chemistry and anatomy. Dean said the course was offered because of student input, and she’s excited to be the one building the program.

“I know when I was in school, we didn’t have any of the forensics,” said Agent Lima, adding that the labs they’d done seemed like the basics in advanced forensics. “I was even more surprised when I first met Mrs. Dean and she told us what she has been doing with her class.”

While Christen Redding and students guarded the scene to keep people from coming in and out without permission, Cody Jenkins photographed objects marked with evidence signs while others took measurements.

“I’ve learned a lot in the class,” said Jenkins, who said he likes using his passion for photography in the class. “I thought it would be interesting to work with fingerprints and photographs.”

Meanwhile, Britney Strickland, Derrick Rawls and a few other students waited in lab coats in front of microscopes to analyze the “blood” samples brought in from the scene.

“I think learning about all of it because, some of the stuff, you wouldn’t know,” said Rawls.

“Like, no matter how hard you try to cover up killing somebody, you can always find out,” said Strickland.

Dean said they’ve done everything from dental impressions, lifting fingerprints and processing crime scenes, to learning about serial killers and make students more “aware of their surroundings.”

Dean came to Effingham to start the program after 10 years at Southeast Bulloch, teaching biology and math. She said she wanted the opportunity to teach science full time and that this first semester has been driven by students’ questions and interest as it was by her own research on teaching the course.

“We let the students drive some of the things that we’ve done, making choices when we look at ‘would you rather do this, or go in this direction,’” she said. “We’ve spent more time in some areas that I really didn’t think they would want to spend in, and surprisingly enough, they’ve been johnny-on-the-spot wanting to find out more about it.”

Principal Dr. Mark Winters said that he has seen students who weren’t as engaged in school light up in the forensics class.

“I think it really sparks interest,” said Dean. “Some students were not even considering doing anything in this field prior to the class, and they changed their minds. Some students thought they wanted to do this and decided maybe not.”

She said her math background has come in handy and that with the broad spectrum of specializations needed in crime scene investigation and forensics, there’s something for everyone and they have to use all types of academics.

“That’s what’s really neat about this course,” Dean said, “you are bringing everything from history, over to math, to science, to literature — we talked about forgery, literary arts that have been forged. So it’s actually taking the whole school, summing it up and saying, ‘wow it makes sense.’”

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