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New Science Course At Ridgefield High School Compels Students To Excel

And with the sheer diversity of topics and the depth with which students have already explored their chosen fields, this isn't at all your normal high school science class.

"The chemical and biological control of Purple Loosestrife."

"Interventional radiological treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma."

"Pathogenesis of laminitis."

These are just a few topics that high school sophomores at have chosen to study over a three-year period in

And with the sheer diversity of topics and the depth with which students have already explored their chosen fields, this isn't at all your normal high school science class.

Students taking the course, 27 in all, are expected to set their own goals, make their own deadlines, even bargain for their grades -- it is set up to reflect the world of science research, and students are beginning to see what that means.

Teachers Michael Yagid and Patrick Hughes explain that they are guides, really, for the students rather than teachers in the strictest sense.

"It's incredible," Yagid said. "It's all their own initiative."

And not only are the students working diligently on their own, but they are passionate and excited about presenting their topics at the upcoming symposium to be held May 30 at the high school.

Esther Kim, a sophomore student in the class, explains that students "don't really have lessons, don't have notes," but their "textbook" is the compilation of all their research throughout the year.

"Over three years, we'll find the the topics we're passionate about," said Kim, who is studying engineered graphite oxide for water purification. "We're encouraged to find the one specific thing that gets us motivated."

"All of it is student-driven," said student Lizzie Peters. "We pick a topic we'd like to know more about, and hopefully by the end of the class, we'll have something real to show for it."

Peters is studying learning and brain plasticity through the cognitive benefits of video game training.

And it's not just about the science -- the class has a lot to do with growing up and getting ready for life outside of high school.

"We set our deadlines," said Alyssa Deem, who is studying invasive species. "We determine how much we can do and set our goals."

With three years to complete a full project, the sophomores have only scratched the surface of their topics in researching what others have already done and in some cases contacting those scientists to seek their help.

By the end of their senior year, the idea is that the students will be conducting research entirely their own that is on the cutting edge of their chosen field -- but they need some help along the way.

So part of the course is dedicated to contacting scientists in the field who will give the students insight into what it takes to do this research and what they should be looking into. Already, students are getting positive feedback.

Emily Straley, who is studying hepatocellular carcinoma, has already been invited to the GEST (Global Embolization Symposium and Technologies) conference.

"It's a really great experience," Straley said. "It's a tough class, but you're so driven to make it."

"Even if what you do after high school is different, the skill set is something that will benefit you," said Devin Gund, who is studtying inroganic biology. "We'll have tangible results at the end of this."

Many of the students taking the class, although only sophomores now, think they want to pursue something in the science fields after graduation.

"Science has always held a special place in my heart," said Cameron, who is studying neuroblastoma. "Even if it's something I don't end up doing for the rest of my life, I'll always be able to reflect on the skills and motivation I've gotten from this class."

"It's taken me out of my comfort zone," said Margaret McKibben, who is studying the pathogenesis of laminitis and who wants to be a veterinarian. "It's the best life decision I've ever made."

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