South Charlotte

Students learn first-hand about solving crime

Instructor Patty Stegura instructs fifth-grade students Sammy Dansky and Landan Alt in the science of fingerprinting.
Instructor Patty Stegura instructs fifth-grade students Sammy Dansky and Landan Alt in the science of fingerprinting. COURTESY OF SUZANNE BLASZAK

All six fifth-grade classes at Providence Spring Elementary School spent the second week of school participating in a CSI: Adventures in Forensics study unit that was the brainchild of Patty Stegura.

Stegura, 44, owns Stegura Science and runs science-based, in-house field trips for elementary and middle schools in Columbia, S.C.

Stegura is a former teacher. She received a bachelors degree in elementary education from Indiana University in Pennsylvania in 1993. Stegura started her business after presenting the forensics curriculum as a parent volunteer at her daughter’s middle school.

“Every elective the school offered was in the arts,” Stegura said. “I love science and I knew the kids would love forensics.”

She said forensics is a great catch-all for science subjects and skills.

“It includes biology, chemistry and physical science and teaches them the importance of collecting and analyzing data,” Stegura said.

When Stegura was asked to offer the unit to other classes and then other grades in the school, she knew a business was born.

She works primarily in South Carolina, but she brought a condensed version of the CSI curriculum to Providence Spring Elementary last year at the behest of her sister, Sandy Toth, 48, a teaching assistant at the school. Toth reached out for help last spring to do something interesting for students who did not join their classmates on the fifth-grade Williamsburg, Va., trip.

“They absolutely loved it,” Toth said, so she approached the teachers about expanding the forensics unit for the entire grade.

“It’s a fresh and exciting way to start off the year,” said Suzanne Blaszak, a fifth-grade teacher who has taught for 20 years. “It’s a great team building experience for the whole classroom and I get to see my students in an entirely different light than I would in a structured class activity.”

Stegura’s curriculum introduces the students to three jobs in the field of forensics: crime scene investigator, forensic scientist and detective.

The students are taught how to examine, document and process a crime scene; how to analyze evidence in the lab, including fingerprints, DNA, blood, hair and fiber; and how to draw conclusions based on the evidence.

A highlight for many students was the emphasis on hands-on activities.

They were given white lab coats and safety goggles and saw firsthand, as Amy Husar, 10, noted, “how much work CSIs have to go through to figure stuff out.”

Frank Nott, 10, said “We got to look at DNA and blood. We didn’t just learn how they do it but we actually get to do it.”

Emma Duncan, 10, spoke for many when she said her favorite part of the unit was learning about the different types of fingerprints and how to get them.

“I can’t believe how many types of fingerprints there actually are,” she said.

The crime scene also was a hit.

“We had black lights and we had fingerprints and notes,” said Nicky McMahan. “We get to figure out who did it and why.”

The Providence Spring Elementary School PTA funded the CSI unit, and the fifth-grade teachers are convinced it will pay dividends.

“They learn so much,” said Stegura. “It reinforces what they learn in science and they see how it relates to the real world.”

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer:

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