The Biotechnology Academy staff is dedicated to helping every student reach his or her potential. They believe they make a difference in the lives of the Biotech students and are, therefore, willing to spend additional time beyond the school day, and expend additional efforts beyond traditional teacher expectations.
"I tend to spend a lot of my time talking to other teachers, certainly spending more time talking to the students at lunch or after school, chasing them down and saying, 'Hey, what are you struggling with?'" says history teacher Doug Schaefer. "The reward is to see many of them going to college, many of them coming back and really making something of themselves. When we see their little brothers and little sisters in a few years, they are going to have the expectation of 'Yeah, I am going to college.' That's a huge reward for all for us, not just for me but also for the whole community."
Although the curricular focus is on science, English and history courses are also integrated. Students learn through projects and activities and through field trips to local biotechnology companies. A core group of academic teachers works with the students across all grade levels to ensure high-quality work, regular attendance, and on-time graduation. If a student is struggling, intervention is swift. "We have four teachers who staff an after-school tutoring program where students are required to go for help if their grades drop below a C in any of their classes," says Metz.
(See the "Biotech: At a Glance" multimedia feature and PDFs of the academy's Biology Objectives, Science Project Rubric, Peer Editing Form, Peer Evaluation Form, and Making It Happen Q&A for more insights into this school.)
Business partners show students how chemistry and biology have real-world applications.
Personalization -- Business Partners As Role Models and Mentors
The Biotech Academy has established partnerships with several local Silicon Valley companies, including Agilent Technologies, Alza, Applied Biosystems, Guidant, Genentech, Genencor, Incyte Genomics, Kaiser Permanente, Exelesis, and Stanford Medical School. These companies provide guest speakers, field trips, and job- shadowing opportunities. Some offer internships for students. Others also participate in the mentor program for academy juniors and seniors. Mentors volunteer two hours each month and offer academic support, role modeling, and encouragement to students. Often, mentors are the experts for student projects.
Agilent Technologies has been a partner since the academy's inception. Terry Lincoln, the company's public affairs director, serves on Biotech's advisory committee and says that because of Agilent's focus on life science and bioscience, the business links perfectly with the academy. The company has provided two monetary grants: one for $30,000 and another for $10,000.
It also sponsors the Agilent After School hands-on science program, in which Biotech Academy seniors work with incoming eighth-grade students on science-related projects. When asked about the benefits to Agilent, Lincoln explained, "We want to encourage, inspire, and excite students about science. Hopefully, they will go on and pursue an education and a career in science."
Homero Rey is a product test scientist at Applied Biosystems. As one of a group of prospective volunteers from the company willing to help encourage student interest in biotech careers, he heard a presentation Metz made to the company and decided to donate some time with Biotech Academy students. "My background is Latino, and a lot of these students are of Latino background, so I think it helps to see someone who comes from their culture," says Rey.
Rey mentors two male students, meeting with them twice a month either at the high school or when they visit Applied Biosystems. He views his role, he says, as helping them "understand what it takes to become a successful scientist." Rey encourages them to focus on succeeding in school and learn what it is they enjoy learning and doing. While sharing his background growing up in Brooklyn with parents of Cuban descent, he asks about their lives and tries to understand their problems and concerns.
Students who visit Applied Biosystems are led through a day-long series of activities beginning with a lecture from Rey about the general skills required to be a product test scientist and the specific knowledge of chemistry, physics, molecular biology, and mechanical engineering he uses every day at work. Following Rey's talk, the students conduct a hands-on laboratory experiment guided by other Applied Biosystems employees who have also volunteered their time. They learn how to make a calibration curve using mathematics and how to use scientific equipment such as a hemacytometer (an instrument that counts blood cells in a measured volume of blood) and a microscope.
During their visits, students also have opportunities to learn about other careers such as biochemistry, engineering, biology, and chemistry. Through exposure to the real world, business partners such as Applied Biosystems hope to encourage students to stay in school, focus on academic achievement, and plan for future success.
Ninety-five percent of last year's seniors were college bound.
A Better Future
Most Biotech Academy students enter the program with a poor attitude about school and a less-than-stellar academic record -- cutting classes, being pressured by peers to be cool, and not believing in themselves or other people. Most, like Miguel Villafana and Erica Diaz, who received the Turn-Around Student of the Year award from the local Kiwanis Club, learn that perseverance and hard work can lead to a better future. "I felt like I did something, you know?," Diaz says, beaming. "I am getting somewhere, and it's paying off. I am getting scholarships. I'm getting known throughout the school that I did do something for myself."
In 2000, the Biotech Academy was selected as a Lighthouse Site for UC Berkeley's Career Academy Support Network. A Lighthouse Site is an academy that provides materials and meeting space and hosts classroom visits and opportunities to network and discuss real issues around academy development and improvement. Educators from the Bay Area interested in establishing an academy or improving an existing academy can visit the Biotech program for a day, talk with staff and faculty, collect samples of related materials (such as brochures, contracts, and parent letters), and speak with one another about what they have seen and how it might be implemented at their site.