By Jackie Alexander, Staff Writer, Gainesville Sun
County students will learn about career academies like June Camerlengo’s biotechnology program at the Career Academy Forum on Thursday night at Buchholz High School.
Steven Jaworski stepped underneath the flow hood and cut a small leaf disc from an African violet using long-handed forceps. Eventually, the violet will multiply asexually in a test tube, creating several sterile samples from which medicines could be derived. And that was all during first period at Santa Fe High School.
County students will learn about career academies like June Camerlengo’s biotechnology program at the Career Academy Forum tonight at Buchholz High School. Alachua County Public Schools has several career academies, including agriscience, automotive technology, criminal justice, culinary arts, design and technology, early childhood education, entrepreneurship, finance, fire and EMS, and health professions.
The biotechnology program is one of the newest career magnets in the county. Camerlengo said students must learn how to create sterile plant samples in order to create medicines. “Biotechnology is manipulating living organisms in a way to better our lives, so students have to learn how to grow different organisms in the lab,” she said.
Students completed a plant tissue culture during class on Wednesday. For second-year biotechnology student Nicole Klacko, a 16-year-old sophomore, that attracted her to the program and to science.
“You learn about it for sure in the book, but the labs make it 10 times better to understand,” she said.
The classroom experience helps spark a love of science in Camerlengo’s students. Steven, a 15-year-old freshman, said he planned to be a sports agent until his career academy.
Now he hopes to go into medicine design, especially after the plant tissue culture project.
“It’s more in-depth than what we’ve done before,” he said. “I hope to go work in a biotech lab at Progress Park.“
After sterilizing their leaf samples, students placed them in test tubes with a plant growth regulator designed to make the sample multiply. Camerlengo said students could later use those tiny plantlets in another test tube with a different regulator that would encourage root growth. “If you’re going to do any genetic manipulation of plants, plant-based research, you have to be able to grow the plants in the lab and remove any variables,” she said.
Camerlengo’s classroom is stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, from mass spectrometers and refrigerated centrifuges to orbital incubators and analytical scales. It helps students long before they hit college science, Camerlengo said. “Their confidence level in the lab, it’s dramatically different for kids who don’t have a program like this,” she said.
As a result, her students are getting into advanced college programs and job offers before graduating college, she said.
That and they’re getting somewhere to call their own. “They have a place in the school where they have their niche,” she said.