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Photo Gallery | Local students get CSI crash course

Sebring, Florida -- STEM scholars from Glades, Hardee, DeSoto, Hendry, Okeechobee and Highlands counties are getting the opportunity to experience crime scene investigations courtesy of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office's Criminal Investigations Unit.

Once a month students identified by their respective school districts as gifted or talented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics receive hands-on applications and exercises in some area of science or technology.

At the end of February, students traveled to Hill-Gustat Middle School in Sebring where members of the HCSO Crime Scene Unit set up 5 stations for study and experience.

HCSO Crime Scene Technician Kathy Perez walked students through a staged crime scene complete with a "dummy" victim and fake blood splatter.

Students learned the importance of math skills to calculate angles from blood spatter and project elements of the crime from this data.

Brittany Milrot, a sophomore at Okeechobee County High School enjoyed "spraying stuff to show blood even if they cover it up".

Crime Scene Investigator Stacy Andrews demonstrated how to make biofoam molds of tire tracks and footprints found at crime scenes.

Brandon Beatty, a junior in the program, said, "Biofoam was the most fun because we made something we could keep".

Everyone seemed to enjoy Crime Scene Investigator Jon Wilkinson's demonstration of all the tools of the trade that are transported in the crime scene vehicle. Students were allowed to try out the metal detectors and discover objects hidden in the grass as well as getting an understanding of the dedication it takes to work crime scenes from start to finish.

John McGehee, an Okeechobee County freshman enjoyed the fingerprint station set up by Crime Scene Investigator and Fingerprint Master Jeff Fennell. Fennell explained the science of fingerprints, then demonstrated several ways to get prints to be visible and identified.

Finally, computer expert Jason Dionne spoke to the assembly of students about computer and cell phone technology and how this is used to make connections between criminals and prove cases in court. He also demonstrated how pictures and posts allegedly deleted from cell phones and computers are actually saved and can be restored.

"The FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program is a great way to expose some of our most gifted and talented students to careers and post-secondary offerings in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said John Varady, Program Coordinator for the Heartland Educational Consortium. "These are opportunities that many of our students in small and rural school districts can't access as readily as can students from larger districts."

Sheriff Susan Benton was very excited to see these students participating in the STEM program.

"These students are our future members and community leaders. It's wonderful to be able to tap into our Crime Scene Investigators to give hands on experiences for them. We enjoyed setting this up and interacting with these young scholars as they see opportunities for their skills in the field of law enforcement and crime scene investigations," said Sheriff Benton.

The FloridaLearns STEM Scholars initiative is a multi-faceted, three-year project funded in 2011 by the Florida Department of Education. The purpose of the $4.5 million award is to create and implement a model STEM high school system for gifted and talented students in 27 of Florida's small and rural school districts. For more information about FloridaLearns STEM Scholars, visit www.floridalearnsstemscholars.org.

Release and photos courtesy Highlands County Sheriff's Office.

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