Jan. 17—It's all fun and games in Chelsie Henrie's second-hour Verdigris High School classroom, until the sound of a frantic 911 call brings everyone to attention.
Within minutes, the students are fully engaged as the dramatic voice on the phone begs for help. The caller describes a devastating scene of fire and smoke as it begins to engulf a three-story duplex with people inside. In the end, investigators interview witnesses and victims and probe the scene for the source of the blaze, which took a life.
Arson investigation podcast assignments like this are just one of the ways Henrie, VHS secondary science education teacher and volleyball coach, has found to bring the world of forensic science to the classroom.
Henrie admits teaching forensics is nothing like a traditional chemistry or other science class. Still, it gets students' attention and opens their minds to college study and career possibilities far beyond just criminal investigations and law enforcement.
"I didn't realize how many fields there are in forensics," student Kelsie Williams wrote in her review of the class. "They have teams for everything. For example, there is forensic anthropology, odontology, biology and DNA, toxicology, etc. So if someone is thinking about forensics as a career option, you have many options."
Henrie also encourages the students, now in their junior or senior year, to use the class to sharpen their listening and observation skills, learn how to ask questions that lead to answers, and write reports reflecting the facts.
This year's class applied what they learned in a final assignment, a first-ever Christmas Crime Scene diorama competition.
"The goal of the project was to showcase what they have learned during the semester with a Christmas spin," Henrie said.
Students bridged their knowledge of crime scene investigation, while creating a three-dimensional, holiday-themed crime scene.
"They really did a good job on these, with a lot of effort put forth," Henrie said.
Senior Marcelina Kruszynska and her forensic team's "How the Grinch Killed Christmas" display took a second-place ribbon in the competition.
She summarized her classroom experience, writing: "Forensics is a synchronized, complex mechanism that requires a variety of people to work. Contributing to it are investigators, scientists, doctors, lawyers and many more. It gives a lot of interesting job opportunities for anybody interested."
Christmas Crime Scene Diorama Competition winners
Morning class: first, senior Josephina Melkova, with "Hansel and Gretel"; second, seniors Marcelina Kruszynska, Laura Douzilly and Emma Pendlebury, with "How The Grinch Killed Christmas"; and third, seniors Kelsie Williams and Charity Rose, with "Christmas Eve Robbery."
People's Choice winner was senior Rhyan Waltonbaugh and junior Serenity Read, with "Candy Cane Killer." Honorable mentions were Kinsley McKay, with "Rudolf's Ghastly End"; Maegan Fuller and Caysie Eason, with "Mafia Massacre"; and Kyleigh Jones and Chloe Harris, with "Neighbor's Revenge."
Afternoon class: first, juniors Bella Smith and Brooklyn Murray, with "Hallmark Gone Wrong"; second, juniors Reese Willhite and Grace Evans, with "How The Grinch Killed Christmas"; and third, junior Libby Smith with "Reindeer Rendezvous."
People's Choice winners were juniors Kelby Warren and Maddox Mason, with "Burn Santa, Burn." Honorable mentions was junior Lex Lewis, with "The Santa Clause."