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13 science leaders graduate

A group of industrious “guinea pigs” at Lakeland High School was recognized Wednesday as the first graduating class for the school’s Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences Program.

Friends, family, Suffolk School Board members and Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney gathered in the school auditorium for the inaugural white coat ceremony. Each of the 13 graduates donned white for their hard work and dedication to science, medicine and technology.

“You guys just clap as much as you want to tonight,” Principal Douglas Wagoner told the audience. “Because this is the time to be happy and joyous and to celebrate these young men and women for their completion of a very rigorous and demanding program.”

PLTW is a national nonprofit that provides millions of students from kindergarten to 12th grade the resources they need to develop in-demand skills for careers in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

There were 20 LHS freshmen that initially entered the Biomedical Sciences Program in 2014, but only 13 completed the requirements. They signed up to get experience in career fields that have captivated them for years.

“I’ve wanted to go into the medical field since I was in middle school, and I also wanted something to challenge me so I would be better prepared for college,” said Aliyyah Copeland, who will attend James Madison University to major in nursing.

The students investigated how to prevent, diagnose and treat various diseases. They learned how different systems worked in the human body and applied their lessons to real-world cases. Animal organs were dissected, thought-provoking projects were put together and hands-on exercises were done with the latest technology.

The graduating class had internships at Sentara Obici Hospital, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Christopher Newport University and other facilities and institutions. Aspiring veterinarian Morgan Baines enjoyed her time with the Swine Unit at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center. She will study at Virginia Tech in the fall.

“I’ve always loved animals, and I want to help them in any way I can,” Baines said.

Presentations and projects were extensive, study blocks were replaced with AP classes each semester and labs were intense exercises in detail.

“We would literally spend one whole class period learning just one lab technique,” Copeland said.

But the biomedical class of 2018 powered together as a “scientific Addams family,” according to Colin Bales, one of the class honor students and a prospective pharmacist heading to Virginia Commonwealth University to study chemistry.

“We’re family,” Copeland concurred.

Program Instructor Sarah McDonald fought back tears as she recalled the daily lunchtime her students spent with her in the classroom.

“You guys were so determined that you wanted to work through lunch to complete your labs, and I’m not going to complain, because I loved it,” McDonald said. “You all worked so hard, and I will always remember that.”

The students called themselves “guinea pigs” with affection and turned McDonald’s classroom into more than a place of learning, she said. A video made by the students showed four years of experiences that bonded them together and led them to their white-coated achievement on Wednesday.

They also helped refine the program and set a high bar for next year’s students.

“You’ve all completed an extraordinary accomplishment,” she said. “You’re the first graduating class of the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences Program, and in true Cavalier fashion, you conquered.”

The Project Lead The Way graduates are Noa Greene, Morgan Baines, Mariah Hicks, Tessa Johnson, Brittney Strickland, Alex Kinsey, Diamante Moore, Colin Bales, Aliyyah Copeland, Sara Matthews, Jermaine Austin, Maya Anderson and J.C. Oonyu-Gray Jr.