Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter Break Dec. 22-Jan.1 / Vacaciones de Invierno 22 de dic. al 1 ero de enero

Schools and Offices Closed for Winter Break
District schools and offices will be closed on Friday, December 22 through Monday, January 1 for Winter Break.  School will resume as usual and district offices will be open on Tuesday, January 2.  Please note that Thursday, December 21 is a full school day.

Escuelas y oficinas estarán cerradas durante las vacaciones de invierno
Escuelas y oficinas del distrito estarán cerradas desde el viernes 22 de diciembre hasta el lunes 1 de enero, con motivo de las vacaciones de invierno.  Escuelas y oficinas del distrito abrirán sus puertas como de costumbre el martes 2 de enero. Tenga en cuenta que el jueves 21 de diciembre será un día de jornada escolar completa.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Weather Cancelations for December 8 & 9

Due to uncertain weather conditions, all activities scheduled for Saturday, December 9 have been canceled. Regarding evening events on December 8, many have already been canceled or postponed. Those that are already underway will be concluding by 7:30 p.m. Second basketball games will be canceled and rescheduled.

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CHCCS Welcomes New Board Members, Chair, Vice Chair

New Board Members Sworn In
Chair and Vice Chair elected

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, at its December 7 meeting, welcomed Mary Ann Wolf and Amy Fowler as they were sworn in as our newest board members. James Barrett, re-elected, was also sworn in. Joal Broun, also re-elected, was unable to attend, but will be sworn in at a future meeting.
Mary Ann Wolf
Dr. Mary Ann Wolf currently directs the Digital Learning Programs at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State. Her impact on education locally, statewide and nationally has been extensive as a policy-maker, researcher and advocate. For the past 20 years, in her current position, as well as her previous role as executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, Wolf has focused on boosting American students’ competitiveness in the global economy. She is an enthusiastic proponent of personalized learning. As Wolf’s CHCCS school board candidate website states, “Education is part of who I am and how I think.”

Wolf began her career in education as a fifth grade teacher and earned her Ph.D. in education leadership at the University of Virginia, after a Master’s in Elementary Education at George Washington University and a Bachelor’s in Accounting and Marketing at Georgetown University. She and her husband are CHCCS parents, with three children in high, middle and elementary schools.

Amy Fowler
Dr. Amy Fowler, a local pediatrician, has chaired the district’s Special Needs Advisory Council for years. She has also served as president of the Orange Chatham chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina. During her campaign, Fowler emphasized the need for continuing supports for students with disabilities, as well as increased focus on the mental health of students. “We must ensure that all students feel safe and ready to learn,” Fowler wrote in a September letter to the Daily Tar Heel.

After earning an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University, Fowler received a medical degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a Masters of Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill in Maternal and Child Health. She joined the pediatric team at Chapel Hill Children and Adolescents’ Clinic in October 2007. She and her husband have three children, two of whom are still attending CHCCS schools.

Wolf, Fowler and Broun will serve four-year terms, and Barrett is serving a two-year term that was created by the resignation of Annetta Streater in September.

Additionally, the board elected Rani Dasi as its new Chair, and Margaret Samuels as its new Vice Chair.

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Chapel Hill High - Top Construction Priority

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education met Thursday night at Smith Middle School to discuss next steps to addressing facility renovation and potential capacity needs in the district. 

Given the limited amount of available funding and the significant increase in construction inflation (driven by natural disasters around the country and rising construction demand in the region), the district’s concern is to balance elementary school capacity needs driven by the NC General Assembly mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 with the current renovation needs of many of our facilities.

The General Assembly has mandated that class sizes in grades K-3 be reduced, but have provided no funding for this mandate. This presents significant challenges in capacity, recruiting teachers and staff, potential increases in class sizes for our fourth- and fifth-grades, redistricting and negative impact to world language, art and music. The investment in Lincoln Center was originally planned to provide elementary school capacity, which would allow phasing for renovations at elementary schools. This mandate increased our need for capacity to mitigate the above issues.

The board and administration, in consideration of input from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, parents and community members, voted unanimously to move forward with addressing health and safety needs by reconstructing Chapel Hill High School.

It is important to note that upon completion of Chapel Hill High, there is still a significant need for resources to rebuild other schools.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese asked audience members for help with the following three areas:

1. Class size legislation. The new state law that reduces K-3 class size needs to change. It can’t be implemented without taking drastic measures or spending tens of millions of dollars. We need state legislative level advocacy and a unified statewide approach to get the attention of those in charge at the General Assembly. An active letter writing campaign and outreach to other districts’ PTAs would help.

2. We are navigating the Chapel Hill High approval process with the Town of Chapel Hill. We are seeking Town Council assistance in meeting our project approval date, and their assistance financially with required road improvements. Parents and community members should stay engaged as that process unfolds.

3. As a community we need to figure out how to become much more nimble. We started this process in 2009-2010. I knew then that the high school needed a complete overhaul.  Yet the funding and approval process is still occurring and we don’t have a shovel in the ground. It’s eight years later. No wonder the costs have gone up. We still have seven remaining older schools that also need a lot of work: Estes, Phillips, Seawell, Ephesus, Carrboro Elementary, FPG, and Culbreth.  At the rate we are on those won’t be completed for 50 years and someone (it won’t be me) will have to be figuring out how to renovate Chapel Hill High again. A discussion with the commissioners about another bond and additional funding needs to start now and we have to figure out a more expeditious way. This will take significant community engagement and resolve.

The Board, superintendent and staff would like to thank everyone for the input that has been so graciously provided, and the entire school district looks forward to future support as we pursue access to the necessary funding.

The meeting can be seen in its entirety at the following links:

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

North Carolina School Report Cards

Earlier this week, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released school report cards for all public schools in the state. Data for 2016-17 can be found at NC School Report Cards, a completely redesigned (and more user-friendly) website.

North Carolina’s school report cards are an important resource for parents, educators, state leaders, researchers, and others, providing information about school- and district-level data in a number of areas. These include student performance and academic growth, school and student characteristics, and many other details.

The new website allows for side-by-side school comparisons. However, since schools are structured differently from one another in terms of size, grade levels, student populations, and programs offered, the report cards should not be used to rank schools.

Researchers and others who want more detailed data may visit the school report card analytical site at Data downloads are available at

The North Carolina School Report Cards have been produced annually since 2001 to provide information about local schools, districts and overall state data. More information, including answers to frequently asked questions about the report cards, is available at
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Carrboro High Global Cultures Students Experience History in Alabama

“Waking up at 3:30 a.m. certainly isn’t my favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning, but it was definitely worth it for this trip.” So said Ana Leigh, one of the 42 Carrboro High School students in Matt Cone’s Global Cultures classes who traveled to Alabama the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The experience was built around the study of the 2014 book Just Mercy and the work of its author, civil rights and criminal justice lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. However, the trip brought powerful learning and revelations that reached well beyond the hour spent with the noted activist at his non-profit law firm Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). “It wasn’t ‘just a field trip,’” said parent Chris Simmons, a Duke assistant vice-president in Government Relations. “It was a well-thought out, academic experience that required the students to think, prepare and reflect in ways that they aren’t always required to do. Isabel is still talking about the trip, and we have no doubt that her exposure to the issues and people in Alabama will continue to shape her worldview.”
The students wrote journal entries, recording their evolving ideas about history, race and identity, as well as capturing moments of high emotion and humor. One powerful moment of connection is cited in an entry by Simmons’ daughter Isabel, who quoted one of the chaperones, Leah Abrams, a 2016 Carrboro High graduate who now attends Duke. “Leah Abrams’ words really stuck with me. She said that over her time on this Earth, she’s learned that the most important, impactful thing one can do as a White Ally is to sit back, keep their mouth shut, and just listen to the words, thoughts, and ideas, of their peers of color. I thought that sentiment made sense, and it is a strategy I plan to carry with me not only for the rest of the trip, but in my day-to-day life.”
After twelve hours on the bus, students arrived in Selma late Sunday afternoon where they met Joanne Bland, a tour guide with deep roots in the civil rights history of that city. Every single student shared at least a few thoughts about Bland’s impact on their understanding of the March on Selma and Bloody Sunday in 1965; some students filled nearly a page, writing about their guide. “She told everyone to pick up a rock,” wrote Ana Leigh. “To me and everyone else, it seemed a little silly picking up a random rock off of the ground. But then Ms. Bland went on to tell us that that was the rock she and countless other people stood on, on March 7, 1965. The rocks we held in our hands were pieces of history.”
Cameron Farrar wrote about the impact of Bland leading the group across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge. “I left my phone on the bus because I wanted this to be a moment when I connected to (the experience of) being there. Once we got off the bus to start the walk I began crying. It was not that the particular history was one I was unaware of, but because of the fact that I was hearing a first hand description of what took place and the reminder that our country is filled with so much hate that these poor people were not protected, yet folded back into their hometowns and were beaten all through the night.” Bland told her she didn’t have time to cry, “that you must do something about it.” Farrar wrote, “That really settled with me.”
We concluded by coming back to the bridge and lining up two by two to march,” said Niya Fearrington. “It was a catalyst for me because it was like stepping in the steps of past innovators and world changers, and it was if it was confirming and setting me up for all the things to come.”
Curtis Kinnaman wrote, “The bridge was narrower than I expected. As we walked, I attempted to picture what that day was like, what it was like to have police intent on violence riding on horseback trying to chase you and beat you off of the bridge. However, no amount of imagining can even come close to what it was like on that day. The feeling of walking across that bridge was surreal and one I cannot describe. It was quite an extraordinary day and it was eye opening for me in many ways.”
On Monday the students started the day in the company of Elijah Gaddis, a UNC PhD graduate who’s now a professor at Auburn. Gaddis is a public historian, a curator of digital projects, including “A Red Record,” a documentation of lynchings in the American South. Kate Brownstein reflected on how her attitude toward claiming North Carolina as her home state shifted after talking to Gaddis. “Elijah was saying… that being proud of North Carolina does not mean that we are supporting the problems or the bad parts, but we can be proud of good parts, making the point that having pride and also having things that need to be changed are not mutually exclusive.”
An encounter that students recorded with excitement and detail was a random meeting with a middle-aged artist named Frank Hardy. He encountered the group on the streets of Montgomery and after clearing his invitation with Mr. Cone, he led everyone to his painting studio and kept his audience enthralled as he told the story about growing up black, poor and extremely dyslexic in the 1950’s. Many students wrote longer passages about their experience with the artist than they did about any other part of the trip. David Knox wrote, “He talked about how growing up, he didn’t entirely understand the concept of “whiteness” and considered the poor white people around him as just fair-skinned black people. That was a particularly interesting idea for me, as I grew up poor with a similar sort of ignorance/innocence regarding race.”
David Gonzalez-Chavez noted, “The story of Frank’s life was one which inspired me greatly; it showed me how it is possible to chase dreams and achieve them even given extreme hardships.”
From Frank Hardy’s studio, the group walked to the Southern Poverty Law Center and a meeting with its president Richard Cohen. Before their conversation with Cohen, the students toured the Center, and many of them recorded the impact of seeing numerous shelves filled with different colors of soil from the places where lynchings have occurred. “They covered a whole wall and there are still more to come…,” wrote one student.
Cohen’s remarks and exhortations affected some students strongly; he challenged them to comprehend the impact of low voter participation and cited the 100 million voters who didn’t turn out in 2016. Gonzalez-Chavez wrote, “He inspired me to act in whatever ways that I can, to fix the problems within our nation as he explained that the people that primarily brought about change through the Civil Rights Movement were students.”       
The last major event of the tightly scheduled Monday was the visit to Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. Students had studied Just Mercy earlier in the fall; many of them had been moved by the accounts of racial injustice in the book, but students wrote about how hearing Stevenson discuss those same cases in person provided a deeper and more complex meaning. All of the students had crafted and rehearsed questions for Stevenson, though they knew few would be chosen in the time allotted with the author.
“When he started to call on us for questions, I nearly dislocated my shoulder shooting my hand in the air,” wrote Ellanya Atwater. “By the grace of God, he picked me, and I got to ask him my question about the backlash he may have received from the black community because he works for the institution that has historically and continuously oppressed our race. He told me that there are going to be a million people telling me that I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life doing this, but it’s going to be the few people who really need your help who tell you that what you do is important. That makes everything worthwhile.”
Stevenson spoke about the challenges of working in the criminal justice system when most people categorically perceive defendants as guilty or innocent, without understanding other conditions. This led Gonzalez-Chavez to extrapolate, “I saw the error in how I often judged people without considering their prior experiences. I saw how I often failed to contextualize things before I interjected with my own opinion.”
Several students expressed relief and gratitude that Stevenson emphasized the ability to help people and affect change, even without consideration of grades or occupation. Although only five students were able to ask questions, many others remarked on the power of hearing Stevenson’s responses to their peers. Diamond Blue wrote that, after he answered her question, “everything Mr. Stevenson had said to me, completely made me feel stronger, and capable of doing anything.”
“As a teacher, I was pleased to see the students ask such nuanced, raw questions,” Cone said. “At one point, one of Bryan's assistants wiped tears from her eyes because she was so moved by what one of our students shared with Bryan.”  
Afterward, the group gathered on the sidewalk outside EJI and debriefed. The emotions ran high, and a great number of students reflected on the elements of the trip that they perceived to be life-changing. As one student wrote, “After yesterday and today, speaking with all the inspirational people, we all felt a collective urge to go out and change the world. We said time and time again to not let go of this energy, the urge, and the momentum.”
This year's trip was one of the most profound and positive experiences of my career,” Cone said. And judging from the hundred plus pages of student reflections, the trip will be remembered by many as a highlight of their educational lives, an ongoing source of inspiration and clarity.

The Public School Foundation’s funding allowed all interested students to participate in the experience, by covering fees for those who needed financial support. Multiple students noted their gratitude in their journals.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mayor Hemminger Visits McDougle Elementary

Third grade students at McDougle Elementary School are diving into the subject of Local Governments this month, so what better way to learn about municipal leadership than to hear from the Mayor herself.
Mayor Pam Hemminger spent nearly an hour with the students on Monday, December 4 as they prepared to construct their own versions of municipal governments, including electing a mayor for each classroom.
Students and their teachers had prepared lists of questions, ranging from “What is your family like?” to “Why do houses in Chapel Hill cost so much?” and “When you make decisions, who do you think about?” The mayor managed the room full of children with ease, and she noted that when her four children attended district schools, she volunteered frequently. Blending specific facts and policy ideas with humorous anecdotes, the mayor provided an abundance of information to her audience.
In response to the question, “Is it hard or easy, being the mayor?” Hemminger shared that some days can be really challenging and long, while others are relatively easy. She described how she can’t go out in sweats like she used to, and how surprising it was to “lose” her name. “Now everyone just calls me Mayor.” When she noted that she’s paid as a half-time employee, even though she often works 70 hours a week, one student shrieked from the back of the room, “WHAT???”
Hemminger laughed. “Yes, I said What? too.”
A student asked if Hemminger had always wanted to be a mayor, which elicited a big smile. She said no, not at all, though she had served as class president in high school. “I guess I’ve always wanted things to run better…I love helping our community. I wasn’t really planning on running for mayor.” She noted that Chapel Hill has a tradition of welcoming diversity and outside-the-box thinking. “But I felt like we were moving away from that, towards being just a bedroom community for people who could afford it. My own children said, 'Mom, quit waiting for change to happen. You’ve always told us, Be the change you want to see in the world,'” a statement that made several students nod their heads.
Students wanted to know if she lives in a “fancy house,” and the mayor admitted it’s become fancier since her husband insisted they add a Ping Pong Room, which was also met with students’ approval. They asked her if she can take gifts, so the mayor explained that government officials take an ethics training that emphasizes how important it is to avoid gifts and special favors.
Many children were curious about the “best part” of being Mayor. Hemminger shared that she had been able to give hugs to both President Obama and singer James Taylor, and that day was one high point. A student inquired about other celebrities. “Have you hugged Taylor Swift?”
Natalie Sayag, one of their teachers, asked if Hemminger, also a former school board member and chair,

had specific advice to prepare them for the afternoon’s government simulation. The mayor replied, “It’s really important to hear every voice at the table.”
“It’s been an amazing, amazing experience,” Hemminger told the students as they stood up to file back to their classrooms. A few children hung back to give the mayor a hug.
At the end of the day, Stephens Watson, another third grade teacher, shared this observation, “During the simulations this afternoon, I think the kids were really taking Mayor Hemminger's advice to listen to everyone's opinion. The kids were excited to get their roles and it seemed like they realized the importance of each role in the government.”

Who knows? Maybe cafeteria and classroom conversations this week will include new phrases like “affordable housing,” “stormwater fees” and “rural buffers.” And maybe a few aspiring politicians, currently studying at McDougle Elementary, will look back on today’s mayoral visit as the day it all started.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bond Project Update and Capital Funding Needs

Rendering of the reconstructed Chapel Hill High
On Monday, November 27, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd LoFrese offered a community update on facility needs, specifically projects related to the 2016 bond referendum.

The event took place in the Chapel Hill High Auditorium. Approximately 120 people were in attendance. After a 30-minute presentation by Dr. LoFrese that featured the history, timeline and other information about the projects, the floor was open for a time of questions and feedback. The event was captured on video and can be seen in its entirety here.

The PowerPoint presentation used by Dr. LoFrese can be seen here.

During the time of questions/feedback from members of the audience, notes were taken on their comments. Those notes can be seen here.

The Board of Education is expected to address this issue at its December 7 meeting.
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Monday, November 27, 2017

Delayed Opening, Dec. 7 / Fechas para apertura demorada de las escuelas, 7 de diciembre

Delayed Opening Scheduled for December 7
The district has approved a plan for schools to operate on a Delayed Opening schedule eight Thursdays during the 2017-18 school year.  Schools will open two hours late, allowing teachers to use the time for collaborative planning or professional development.

On these days, buses will run two hours later than the normal schedule and schools will open to students two hours later than usual. Schools will dismiss at their normally scheduled time.

  • Elementary Schools begin at 9:50 a.m.
  • Middle Schools begin at 10:20 a.m.
  • High Schools begin at 10:45 a.m.

Fechas para apertura demorada de las escuelas, 7 de diciembre
Las escuelas públicas de Chapel Hill-Carrboro han aprobado las fechas para apertura demorada de las escuelas, correspondientes a ocho (8) jueves durante el año escolar 2017-2018.  Las escuelas abrirán 2 horas más tarde, para darle a los maestros tiempo para preparar y planificar las clases, así como tiempo para educación continuada.

Esos días los buses recogerán a los niños 2 horas más tarde de lo acostumbrado y las escuelas abrirán sus puertas a los estudiantes 2 horas más tarde de lo acostumbrado. Las clases terminarán a la hora regular.

  • Escuelas de Primaria empezarán a las 9:50 de la mañana
  • Escuelas de Secundaria Media empezarán a las 10:20 de la mañana
  • Escuelas de Secundarias Superior empezarán a las 10:45 de la mañana

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

East Chapel Hill High Students Win Award at iGEM Jamboree

Instances of academic achievement and innovation among CHCCS students persist at such a high level that it’s unfortunately too easy to take specific efforts for granted - “ah, another award, another recognition.” Yet many of the district’s students who step on national and international platforms are producing stellar, college or graduate level work that deserves the spotlight back home.
One such group recently returned from the annual iGEM Giant Jamboree competition in Boston. Seven students from East Chapel Hill High spent four packed days of learning and sharing, and they returned with an award for the Best Innovation in Measurement, and a nomination for the Best Poster Award. All this in addition to being one of only 44 high school teams internationally who made the cut to compete at iGEM this year.
The International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, with an emphasis on open community and collaboration. Teams of high school and college students choose projects that seek to improve global conditions with research and genetic engineering.
Organized and energized by junior Cecilia (Chae Hyun) Lee, the team from East came together last year, intent on developing a research project long before they decided on the area of focus. Lee had participated on an iGEM team when she lived in San Diego, and she missed the organization’s influence in her life. So she decided to create a team at East. The other students are Karlie Tong, Maddie Lorie, Amy Westerhoff, Lindsey Yan, Ananth Murthy and Nancy Liu.
They recognized that they couldn’t form a research club without securing a teacher to sponsor them. When they asked engineering instructor Bill Vincent about sponsoring their work, they received a qualified YES. “I could tell they were very inspired so I agreed to be their sponsor, but I explained that I could provide them a space to meet, supervision, and minimal guidance,” Vincent said. “As it turned out, this was all they needed. They took the proverbial ball and ran with it.”
The students to decided to seek a mentor at the university level. They found Dr. Joseph Harrison, a fellow at the UNC Lineberger Center. “Recently, I had been interested in finding ways to spread my enthusiasm for science outside of the lab setting, and connect with members of the public,” Harrison said. “I thought working with high schoolers would be a fun way to achieve this goal."
During the students’ first meeting with Dr. Harrison, they tossed around various ideas for subjects. Club founder Lee said, “Unfortunately, none of us really knew what genetic engineering was (since I was on the human practices team on my previous iGEM team), so we worked together to learn from scratch with Dr. Harrison! We came up with our project mostly because we were inspired by the incident in Chapel Hill earlier this year when there was an over-fluoridation in our water systems, and the water supply had to be temporarily shut down. It got us to think about how developing areas would deal with a similar situation.”
Dr. Harrison noted that when he began working with the East students, his expectations for what high school students had been taught were sometimes off the mark. “I have been doing research for over 10 years and it’s easy to forget certain challenges that beginners in the lab face, like using a multichannel pipette. But it was really rewarding seeing the team master some of these techniques over the summer and even make a video to show others how to use these techniques."
The final project embraces the potential for real impact in parts of the developing world. As the team’s project description states, “(we) seek to develop the fluoride riboswitch, a strand of mRNA that can bind to fluoride and regulate the expression of downstream genes, as a technology to combat fluoride contamination in water. We developed a system where the fluoride riboswitch controls the expression of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase, allowing bacteria to grow on the antibiotic chloramphenicol in the presence of fluoride. We will use this operon to screen and select riboswitches with higher responsiveness to fluoride.” The team envisions being able to use engineered fluoride riboswitch systems as tools to sequester, bioremediate, or detect fluoride in a cost-effective manner.
"We actually developed a really valuable screening methodology that has many applications,” said Dr. Harrison. “We are currently trying to spread the word about our system and try to get it in the hands of researchers studying riboswitches that would benefit from using it. What we have already developed could be used to test for toxic levels of fluoride in water, but we hope to continue to develop our project to have a better readout and provide more quantitative results."
Throughout the fall, the team members worked on the set of deliverables for the Jamboree:  the formal presentation itself, a wiki and the poster. They also needed to raise funds for the expensive trip and entrance fee to the competition, but it all came together in time to travel to Boston - and earn recognition.
Patty Berge, biomedical sciences teacher at East, said, “More important than their intelligence and knowledge content is (the students’) dogged determination, motivation, and perseverance to achieve and impact their community positively. These kids overwhelmingly impressed me and I am so proud of their achievements!!”
Lee said, “The Giant Jamboree was truly a unique experience where we got to celebrate our year’s worth of research - from brainstorming to the presentation.”
“iGEM provided me with invaluable tools in the areas of collaboration, team work, time management, and public speaking,” said team member Maddie Lorie.
The entire experience served the team with the kinds of exposure and skills-building that would be tough to replicate outside of the iGEM process. "I truly felt that I was making a global impact,” said Karlie Tong. “This experience brought me closer to my team as we fundraised passionately to get to Boston - and opened my eyes to the dilemma of water fluoridation in developing countries. We aren’t done yet either.”
The team hopes to publish its research eventually, but for now, they’re simply focused on making up all of the school work they’ve missed in recent weeks.
To learn more about iGEM, visit
or their wiki page at
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