Richmond-Burton High School “is really small,” said Katie Murphy, the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, department’s lead teacher.
That small school status hasn’t stopped her from finding new ways to offer students there nationally recognized science classes.
When she first looked at bringing Project Lead the Way to the school with fewer than 600 students in grades 9 to 12, Murphy didn’t think there was any way it would work.
Project Lead the Way, or PLTW, is a science curriculum. The one adopted at the Richmond school is designed to give students a pathway to biomedical careers. Students can opt into the science elective classes designed for those interested in health care and medical professions.
When it came to courses by Mrs. Murphy, I really began to start enjoying the different opportunities and experiences given. We were offered many different hands-on learning experiences, which I believe truly helps in a learning environment.— Richmond-Burton High School student Faith Holian
“It is offered at bigger schools with more students to provide more options to. How can we do it without taking away” from other science programs was her big question, Murphy said.
She’d already helped to enhance the school’s existing science programs. After spending much of the 2021-22 school year getting a dual credit biology course in place, students can now earn college credit in high school through McHenry County College.
Murphy was recognized with a meritorious service designation by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Those Who Excel program, nominated by Assistant Superintendent Pat Enright for that work.
PLTW was something she heard about at a conference eight years ago. “I talked about it with the administration at the time” and the thought was the same, she said, that the school was just too small to support the four-class, multi-year tract of classes.
“All of the other schools have 2,000-plus students,” Murphy said. “We are just too small, so it kind of went on the wayside.”
It was something she kept on her radar, and when Murphy moved classrooms last year, she re-discovered a business card for the program. She brought the idea back to Assistant Superintendent Patrick Enright and Principal Michael Baird.
“We decided – why not? Let’s dive in deeper and visit other schools” that use the program, she said.
Then, Murphy found another school with the program similar in size. After meeting with its science team, she thought, “We can actually tackle this,” Murphy said.
Once the Richmond-Burton High School District 157 board got on board with the idea and the costs associated with the program, she scheduled site visits at other schools and attended training for it in the fall 2022-23 semester.
The first class is Principles of Biomedical Science and each course builds on another, Murphy said. That class is followed by Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and Biomedical Innovation. All are offered as science electives.
Students learn on human body and skeleton models – one of the larger costs associated with the curriculum. But, Murphy noted, some of the needed supplies were already there because of the dual credit biology classes she instituted.
They’ve already started registering students for the first introductory class next year. “We now have almost 40 signed up, so two sections for a new class,” Murphy said.
She’s been the science lead teacher for two school years so far.
“It has been the perfect storm of our creativity and passion to make things exciting,” among the science team, Murphy said.
Student Faith Holian said Murphy’s excitement about science has motivated her as well.
“When it came to courses by Mrs. Murphy, I really began to start enjoying the different opportunities and experiences given. We were offered many different hands-on learning experiences, which I believe truly helps in a learning environment,” Holian said.
Murphy will spend part of her summer in an 80-hour training program for the PLTW classes.
The plan is for students who finish the elective program would earn certified nursing assistant degrees through McHenry Community College, Murphy said. Students looking at other degrees would need to work out those credits with the school they are applying for.
“It is another perk of the pathway ... getting medical and clinical hours, earning college credit and getting certifications out of the way” before leaving high school, Murphy said.