George Lucas Educational Foundation

Biotech Academy: A Catalyst for Change

At-risk students in San Jose, California, become college ready and career bound with the support of teachers and biotechnology business partners. Read the article.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Biotech Academy: A Catalyst for Change (Transcript)

Teacher: Right now we're in the middle of our DNA unit. We can get you caught up but I need you in class every single day, no ifs, ands, or buts. Actions speak louder words.

Narrator: Sarah Revis is in trouble. She's failing several classes because she hasn't been to school in one month.

Teacher: I do think that you're one of the most capable students.

Narrator: If she were part of the general population at Andrew Hill High School, her teachers might simply wright her off. But she's a member of the school's Biotech Academy, a close-knit family of at-risk students and dedicated teachers for whom failure is not an option.

Christine Griffin: This has got to change. Do I need to call mom? Honestly, if you want me to call mom.

Student: No.

Christine Griffin: Then I won't okay? Is this going to change?

Student: Yes.

Christine Griffin: Okay when?

Student: Today.

Christine Griffin: And if not?

Student: Then I'll be out of Biotech.

Christine Griffin: So?

Student: I want to go to college and I probably won't graduate.

Christine Griffin: So?

Student: And that matters to me.

Narrator: Graduating from Biotech has changed the lives of hundreds of students since the academy was founded on Andrew Hill High School's San Jose campus in 1999.

Matt Sandora: Okay remember how it works. The [inaudible] if it's going left or right is closed, up and down is open.

Bruce Shimizu: Biotech Academy is sort of the cornerstone of the school, our trademark.

Student: Forty-five.

Student: Forty-five minus-

Bruce Shimizu: And we wanted to provide opportunities for students who were, you know, in that category of maybe marginal or at-risk because our concept was- If you have a program that these students can be connected to, that's going to increase the probability that they're going to stay in school and matriculate to either a two-year or four-year college university.

Narrator: Each fall 50 sophomores enter the three-year academy program which features an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on bioscience. Juniors are hooked up with mentors at local biotechnology companies and as seniors they present the results of self-designed experiments.

Student: Our first lab was actually getting the rats and putting them in the tank.

Narrator: While only 30 percent of the school's general population goes on to college, the rate for Biotech Academy students is 95 percent.

Christine Griffin: Can you see that?

Student: No.

Christine Griffin: Can you see the paper in front of you?

Student: Yes.

Christine Griffin: Good.

Narrator: Much of the credit for the academy's success goes to a unique team of teachers.

Christine Griffin: Imperialism in Africa.

Bruce Shimizu: The teachers in this program were hand-picked. Criteria was first that they were high-energy communicators that understood how to reach kids.

Christine Griffin: The English come down and they're like "Move over" to the Dutch, "move over, move over." And the Dutch are like, go ahead, the Dutch are like "Move back, move back." And so they're going to end up doing what? What are the English and the Dutch going to be doing?

Student: Fighting.

Christine Griffin: Fighting.

The relationship that we have with these kids is completely unique. The way we speak, the "What are you doing? Where are you going? Why aren't you supposed to be in class? Let me see your grades? What- what are you doing?" They respond; for some reason it works for them.

Matt Sandora: Okay so this is what we're going to do. We have to figure out what is the concentration of an unknown acid. Okay?

It's kind of hard because basically you have such a wide range from kid that are extremely intelligent but just aren't trying to kids that need a lot of hand-holding.

The last class still was confused so we'll try it again. Unknown acid, okay.

Coming from the suburbs of Chicago I did not grow up the same way as these kids are growing up so it's very difficult for me to relate lots of times. Like there was a time last year where a kid came in, didn't do his homework. "Why didn't you do your homework?" "My family got evicted. We had to move to a car. We're living in a car." So you're like "Hand it in later." It's like what are you going to say? You can't be angry at the student, the child because it's not their fault.

Doug Schaefer: McCarthy is a senator so that's the Senate Hearings. What's the other part of our government- or the congress?

My role is more I think in some respects the guns, the enforcer. I get to get in people's faces, I get to yell. I chase them down. I'm checking on attendance if they're cutting a class, I'm going to find them.

I have high expectations of their behavior, of your schoolwork and I'm going to do what it takes.

Laura Espinoza: These people really care. These teachers, you know, they'll help you a lot. They never let your grades go down. If your grades go down you get disciplined. I've had teachers chase me because I try to cut class. Mr. Schaefer, my U.S. History teacher, he's jumped a fence just to get me.

Dough Schaefer: Peace, love [inaudible]. Adieu, adieu, adieu to you and you and you!

Teacher: Just let me say that I saw Ms. Fields last week. She had come in because Keith had a C.

Narrator: Since Biotech teachers meet for lunch nearly every day they can share impressions of their students and intervene early when they see trouble on the horizon.

Mrs. Fields: Sorry that we're here. Keith is such a great kid and he's smart but he's just not using what he's got.

Christine Griffin: You got support from home. You've got the ability, you've got the support in this academy. There's no reason why you shouldn't be getting As or Bs.

Keith Fields: I noticed my mom was mad at me and she kind of explained that when we got home and after that kind of clicked something and I brought my grades up.

Mary Metz: Keith is a very good example of how you can really turn a student around by just paying attention to them.

Teacher: this is [inaudible] Y. This is [inaudible] X or one and two as we talked about them.

Narrator: Biotech students get additional support and attention outside the classroom from mentors at several biotech companies in Silicon Valley.

Homero Rey: So we got an unexpected result so this is what happens when you do science. Things happen that you don't understand. You have a hypothesis, something that we think is going to happen. We do the experiment to see what actually happens and then you try to understand it to go back and change your hypothesis.

A lot of these students are of Latino background so I think it helps them to see someone who comes from their culture as well who has been able to progress in this particular career so I think it makes it something that's more of an option for them.

Take ten microliters from the small tube.

Erica Diaz: As a freshman I just thought I was going to be a single mother at my age at 16 or just be nothing.

Narrator: For Erica Diaz the decision to enter Biotech changed her life.

Erica Diaz: As a sophomore I said I want to become a doctor, but to become a doctor what do you have to do? You have to go to school and I guess that's- that goal started reaching out like started getting bigger for me.

And every day is like a goal for me to be in class, to be in school so I can reach that goal.

We had them in the light first and then we covered the tank with like black paper so it could look dark in there and then that's when they were more sexually active.

Narrator: As the semester drew to a close, students came together to assist each other with preparations for their final presentation.

Dough Schaefer: I think one thing in honors class if you often see is real competition. I'm working for that A+. I got to… whereas here I think we've seen more cooperation.

The students realize hey we're in this together. And doing group work projects, we got to do this together. I think that's a big advantage.

Narrator: The intimacy of this school within a school and the group collaboration helped Berenis Revuelta overcome her shyness to become a top student.

Berenis Revuelta: We just wanted to find out the easiest way to take DNA from a tarantula.

I was like antisocial. Didn't really get along with many people. But having all these kids in the same like for three or more classes you kind of get attached to them.

Narrator: After a summer internship at Genentech she plans to enter Chico State.

Berenis Revuelta: We wanted to see if over-the-counter steroids had the same effect as prescribed steroids.

Most of my family doesn't end up like in college and stuff and all they know is like Medical Assistants or something, and so me becoming like a biochemist or something it will be like, wow, you're really doing something.

Students: Whoo!

Bruce Shimizu: These are the kind of folks that have a commitment who are willing to put their time, their effort, their hearts out to students because they understand that these students will return that same sort of commitment to them.

Christine Griffin: And these guys had a difficult time coming to school. They had a difficult time telling the truth. They had a difficult time keeping focused and I'm so proud and I don't want to cry right now but--

Student: Griffin!

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.


Video Credits

Produced by

  • Sue Chen
  • Ken Ellis

Written and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Leigh Iacobucci

Camera Crew:

  • Brian Cardello
  • Sue Chen
  • Ken Ellis
  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Joaquin Marquez
  • George Spies
  • Danny Maneja
  • Lauretta Molitor
  • Jerry Neuman


  • Karen Sutherland


  • Kris Welch

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Alejandra Lopez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i just wnated to say wow! you guys did a great job on the video of biotech! I cant believ its been so long! watching the video for the first time touched me. Watching all my firends and the great! good job!

Richard Kellough's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so very impressed, with the video and with its content. GREAT JOB Biotech school and GREAT JOB Eutopia. That made me wish I could start my teaching career all over again. It reminded me again of why I am so proud to have been a teacher.

Dave Menshew's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have visited this program and can tell you that these folks are as described. They are doing some GREAT work on behalf of their students are are making a difference in their lives.

Anonymous (not verified)

hello my name is anthony and I attend B.T.Washington high school i am also a freshman i love the way the video portrays the school and thier teachers and if i lived in california my first choice for a school would be biotech academy

alexis reliford's picture

hi my name is Alexis Reliford and i go to BTW Washington high school too and i was really impressed what went on at that school im so proud of that school if i went and lived in California i would go there you all keep up the good work and Congrats to all of you

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.