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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Students in Barb Hawkins' medical interventions class at Bloomington High School South are learning about the relationship between genetics and cancer.

Donning goggles, white lab coats and gloves, the students tested mutant yeast to find out if it could repair itself when exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. They drop yeast from test tubes onto a clear plate, prepping the samples before they are placed under a lamp.

The experiment helps the students understand how skin cancer works, and student Marina Blackwell says every day of class is like this.

"When I leave class at the end of the day, I have always learned something new, sometimes medically related or sometimes about myself," she said.

What she learns about herself often comes from Hawkins, her favorite teacher.

"Mrs. Hawkins has made it clear to us that she believes that we will change the medical world. Her confidence in us helps to build our self confidence as well," Blackwell said.

Blackwell's not alone. Her classmate Ryan Cutshall appreciates Hawkins and the class, too.

"She has helped me determine a career path that best suits me while also helping me plan out a path to attain that career," he said.

Hawkins says the class has become like family, but even though the students credit their teacher for their positive experience, she says it's really the curriculum that makes the difference.

The hands-on experiments the students engage in are part of Project Lead the Way, a project-based curriculum.

"The Project Lead the Way curriculum is a nationwide curriculum, and it's just fantastic. What we have the ability to do is let the students think," Hawkins said.

Because much of the PLTW program is inquiry-based, the students' curiosity and questions steer their learning. As they study medical interventions and cancer, they seek to solve problems and design their own experiments.

Students from both Bloomington High School North and South can take the biomedical course. For those in Hawkins' class, they've been in the elective for at least three years and took their first two courses with Paula Kleinow, biology teacher at South.

In their final years, they take the course with Hawkins. Students who take all four years can earn dual credits that can be used toward a college degree.

"What I do hear from students who have left the program is that it's going right into what they're studying in college. I get a lot of emails back thanking me as if I wrote the curriculum, which of course I did not, but they're very thankful for the opportunity because it's very relevant."

Knowing her students will leave her classroom and possibly find themselves in a laboratory developing treatments for cancer and exploring ways to prevent the disease is an exciting prospect.

"Within her classroom, she takes time to ask the students' opinions on specific medical issues. She does this because she knows her students will become the medical professionals of tomorrow," Cutshall said.

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