Lewisburg Elementary science project

A Lewisburg Elementary School fifth-grader, dressed in surgical scrubs, gets set to begin a dissection project in Holly Engberg’s classroom on Thursday, Dec. 14. The visit by a cardiovascular specialist, wildlife biologist and neuroscientist to the classroom, including the hands-on work with animal organs, was funded through a grant given Engberg the DeSoto County Economic Council.

Courtesy photo

Lewisburg Elementary School fifth-grade student Cooper Rye was so excited about “dissection day” he could not sleep, according to his mother Kim Rye.

“Cooper loves science,” Kim Rye said. “He has been talking about this for weeks. His sister, Macayla, had a brain tumor and was treated at St. Jude Research Hospital. Her doctors said they think they got it all with surgery. She does not have to go back for one year. But this experience made Cooper intensely interested in the medical field.

Getting to meet a neuroscientist from St. Jude, a cardiologist from Stern Cardiovascular, and a wildlife biologist have been an amazing experience for him.”

Holly Engberg is Cooper’s teacher at Lewisburg Elementary. She earned a grant from the Foundation for Excellence in Education through the DeSoto Economic Council for her students to perform a hands-on experiment with the guidance of the best minds in the region, exposing young students to the wonders of science. Baptist Memorial Hospital—DeSoto funded the $500 grant.

Dissection day came just before students left their school for Christmas break.

When writing her grant request, Engberg involved her students. Their interests were varied, so she decided to let students’ interests dictate their groups. Students dissected a sheep brain, pig heart, squid and frog.

Dressed in surgical gear donated by Baptist-DeSoto, the young scientists hung onto every word the scientists said, often asking questions if they needed clarification.

“Just how do you get the sack off the heart?” one student asked.

Prior to the day of dissection, much work was completed on the unit of study on organisms and the human body.

“I think these young people are the kids of our future,” said Dr. Yaser Cheema, a Stern Cardiovascular cardiologist who practices at Baptist-DeSoto. Cheema told the students about his passion for preventing and treating heart disease and then supervised the pig heart dissection, step by step. He also stressed the importance of using sharp tools carefully.

Kristen Thomas is a post-doctoral neuroscientist at St Jude Research Hospital.

“I did not do a dissection until I was in high school,” she said. “Science can be taught with a book. Today, I believe these experiences inspired them.”

John DeFazio is a wildlife biologist. He oversaw the dissections of the frog and the squid. He asked his group to locate the frog’s tongue, and then explained how a frog uses his tongue to catch its food.

“A frog’s tongue is attached to the front of their mouths rather than at the back like humans,” he said. “A frog throws its sticky tongue out of its mouth and catches its prey,” he said.

Reluctantly one student looked at his frog, and began searching for the tongue. “I’ve got it. Man, is it cool!”

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