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Colonie Central High School News

Connie WoytowichCCHS Science Teacher Attends Harvard Genetics Summer Institute

Colonie Central High School Science Teacher Connie Woytowich attended a three-day Summer Institute at the New Research Building at Harvard Medical School. 

The institute, which focused on Personal Genetics Education, was aimed at integrating personal genetics into the educational program at the high school level, facilitating conversations in the classroom about genetics, and standards alignment and integration.

Due to the fact that current high school students are among the first generation that will have unprecedented access to information about their DNA, as genome sequencing and genetic testing become cheaper and more available, this issue is highly relevant for today's students. 

“Not only does this topic inspire critical thinking, it is also aligned to both Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards," Woytowich said. "Students need to be engaged in discussions about the potential risks and benefits of knowing more about their DNA, as this information has both personal and social impacts.”

Through workshop-style sessions, Woytowich examined the hopes, realities and controversies in personal genetics. Topics and lessons explored include: An Introduction to Personal Genetics; Using Critical Thinking to Assess Genetic Risk Factors; Genetics, Jobs & Your Rights; A History of the American Eugenics Movement; Genetics and Reproduction; DNA, Crime and Law Enforcement; Athletics and Genetics; and Aggression and Genetics. One invaluable part of the training included a session by a professor of social work who addressed strategies for discussing personal and sometimes upsetting topics with students who may be personally affected by these issues.

“This Summer Institute truly blew me away with the ever-evolving landscape of advances in genetics," Woytowich said. "Due to the fact that technology is advancing at a rate that is faster than we as humans know how to deal with the unintended consequences of its implementation, it is crucial that today's high school students are taught about the science behind genetic advances, as well as potential outcomes for the self and society."

Woytowich will be proposing a 1/2-year science course for CCHS students entitled Personal Genetics.

"I am very excited about the potential to bring what I learned at Harvard Medical School to the students at Colonie Central High School in the form of a credit-bearing course," she said. "From what I have researched, we would be among the first high schools in the Suburban Council to offer such a course, which will bode well for all of our students' college application process and career readiness."