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Sunnyside’s Bioscience program prepares students for future careers


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  • Lisa Irish/ Arizona Education News Service

Students In Sunnyside High School's Bioscience Program Perform Lab Work. Photo Courtesy Brooke Razo/Arizona School Boards Association

When students put on their lab coats and take part in the bioscience program at Tucson’s Sunnyside High School, they learn what they need to succeed in the workplace and college by doing lab work with partners like Native Seeds/SEARCH, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Arizona Game and Fish and the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona.

That real-world focus had helped bioscience program students land internships and earn college credit while in high school as well as outperform their peers at Sunnyside High on AzMERIT, said Steven Uyeda, who has taught the bioscience program since its inception in 2008 at the Title I school that serves 2,400 students.

“I prepare students by using real-world problems with no single answer,” said Uyeda, who is also an adjunct faculty member at Pima College. “I engage students through intensive projects involving work for community clients and problem-based leaning curricula that focuses on current problems and issues, uses research, critical thinking and hands on work in a professional lab setting with research grade equipment.”

Video by Brooke Razo/ASBA: Sunnyside Unified School District’s Bioscience Program

Most students in the Bioscience program are Latino girls, and many will be the first person in their family to attend college.

“It was through this class that I truly attained the skills that would prepare me for future internships, which would give me the edge colleges were looking for,” said a former Biotechnology student, who was also class valedictorian. “Mr. Uyeda not only saw the potential in me, but nurtured it and gave me the room to refine it.”

Sunnyside Unified’s bioscience program won one of Arizona School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Promise Program Awards.

Arizona school districts interested in applying for the award this year should submit their application online before Oct. 26, 2018.

The students work in small groups doing DNA barcoding for local nonprofits in a campus lab stocked with industry-standard tools and technology usually found only in commercial and research laboratories.

One project students worked on with researchers from U of A and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum showed that trees in South Tucson and the surrounding area are descendants of trees brought by missionaries including Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary and explorer, who arrived in Southern Arizona in 1691.

Earning college credit in high school

Students who complete the two-year program with grades of C or higher in their classes can earn dual-enrollment credit at University of Arizona for Microbiology 101 (3 credit hours) and Microcellular biology 102 (3 credit hours) at a reduced tuition rate.

That reduced rate can still be a hardship for some families, so Uyeda worked with Sunnyside Foundation to develop financial help for students to pay for their courses through contributions from organizations including the Sunnyside Class of 1967.

Uyeda encourages students who have completed or are enrolled in the program to take additional courses at Pima Community College that would let them complete core course requirements to earn a certificate as a bioscience laboratory technician.

Improving educational outcomes

Students in the bioscience program outpaced their peers at Sunnyside High School and in the state in scoring proficient and highly proficient on the end of course AzMERIT exams.

In the 2016-17 school year, 37.5 percent of bioscience program students scored proficient or highly proficient on the end of course AzMERIT exams in English/Language Arts, compared to 25 percent of students statewide.

That same year, 80 percent of bioscience program students scored proficient on the end of course AzMERIT exam in Algebra II, compared to 15.3 percent of students statewide.

For the past three years, 85.71 percent of Sunnyside’s bioscience program students passed the Arizona Technical Skills Assessment, higher than the 74.7 percent passing rate of other bioscience program students throughout the state.

District, community support key to starting program

Financial support from Sunnyside Unified School District, the University of Arizona and Pima County was key to starting up the bioscience program’s $75,000 industry-standard laboratory where students use research-grade equipment.

Over time, the district has purchased equipment to upgrade the lab, improve safety and increase flexibility in activities as well as provided further professional development for the instructor.

University of Arizona’s Biotech Project partnered with the district to supply the students with consumable supplies not normally found in a high school biology program.

Pima County’s Youth Career Connect grant provided support for equipment purchases, student workshops for employability skills including resume writing, interviewing, as well as networking field trips with industries and colleges and organizing paid summer student internships.

Two students worked at the Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department where they were paid a stipend and earned 6 credit hours at Pima Community College. One student interned for 120 hours and was paid for his time. Four students earned credit in Molecular Cellular Biology 103 at U of A and received a stipend. Four students participated in BLAST, a Bioscience program at U of A. Five students attended Junior Shark Tank, sponsored by Steering Youth To STEM.