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Investing in Excellent and Innovative Results

Profile on Santa Clara High School Student Amanpreet Kaur

Amanpreet Kaur, a junior at Santa Clara High School, is learning that mistakes are encouraged in her second year Biotechnology class with teacher Sara Carvalho. “When I used to make mistakes, I would berate myself for it.  I would see mistakes differently…negatively,” Amanpreet shared.

Some of the greatest innovations were the products of mistakes. Take penicillin, for example. Scientist Alexander Fleming’s mistake of leaving out dirty petri dishes ultimately led to the discovery of the mold that has gone on to save millions of lives. Then there is the pacemaker — inventor Wilson Greatbatch pulled the wrong part out of a box of equipment that he ultimately used to create an implantable device of just 2 cubic inches, and forever changed life expectancy in the world. Now, more than half a million of the devices are implanted every year.

Santa Clara High School began offering Biotech 1-2 in 2009, and Biotech 3-4 in 2011, as part of its Career and Technical Education offerings. The courses provide hands-on learning experiences in applications of biology.  The field of Biotechnology or "biotech" encompasses a wide range of procedures for modifying living organisms for human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of the plants, and "improvements" to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization. Modern usage includes genetic engineering as well as cell and tissue culture technologies.

Amanpreet enthusiastically shared that she and her classmates have completed a number of labs this year, including a crime scene investigation simulation, studying bacteria, chromatography, and even an insect lab to discover whether a parasite was living in an insect.

Presently, the second year Biotech students are working on a GMO (genetically modified organism) lab to test foods to see if they have a DNA insert present in GMO food. A local company, BioRad, creates kits and equipment that allow teachers to affordably bring Biotech into the classroom. Students are able to use the same equipment that is being used in research to extract DNA from those foods. They then conduct a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to amplify the DNA, and run the DNA through electrophoresis to determine the presence or absence of the DNA sequence. This is the same type of procedure that scientists would do in DNA analysis, crime scene investigations, and forensics.

In a class that requires precise work, mistakes are encouraged as opportunities for students to learn more about what they are learning… and about themselves. Amanpreet now sees mistakes differently: “Today I made a mistake on my Biotech final, and Ms. Carvalho assured us that if we could explain our mistake and our results, then we have learned from it, and that is success.” She also shared, “It’s become easier to make mistakes, even if it compromised my results.  I would learn from it. It makes me accept myself more as a person and as someone who makes mistakes,” she continued.

As she looks forward to her future as a doctor, Amanpreet reflected that Santa Clara Unified School District’s investment in its Biotech labs and program is successful both immediately and well into the future as the district district keeps pace with the rapid changes and innovation in the region. “Things are always changing in Silicon Valley and it’s happening very fast.  To keep up with that, Santa Clara Unified School District’s investment in Biotech and other CTE programs is preparing students for jobs and college, which is crucial,” she shared. “It shows they are focusing on the students, and bringing up the standard of living in a positive way,” she continued.

To learn more about the many ways that Santa Clara Unified is Investing in Excellence, please visit www.santaclarausd.org/investinginexcellence.