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EPISD’s DREAMS Program Inspiring Incoming Middle Schoolers

The Developing Research and Early Aspirations Medical Scholars or DREAMS camp drew nearly 400 middle school students to Silva Health Magnet this summer to discover health care careers.

The 12-day program is broken down into three units: robotics, forensics and nutrition.  Every four days, the students rotate units so they can explore all three areas.

“We try to engage them in a medical aspect of thinking,” teacher Maria Bañales said.

In the forensics unit, students are presented with a simulated crime scene. They collect evidence for analysis, including hair, fibers and fingerprints.

“They look at DNA and different ways to figure out who committed the crime,” Bañales said. “The kids love it.”

Student Alexa Ontiveros enjoyed exploring fingerprint identification.

“I learned there are three types of fingerprints: arches, loops and whorls,” Ontiveros said. “Science is something I am definitely interested in so this program is really cool.”

Students received a list of suspects, each with a statement of their whereabouts to help the junior investigators solve the crime. Based on her preliminary findings, Ontiveros has her money on the suspect “Kendra.”

“I think Kendra did it because her fingerprints were on the cup,” Ontiveros said.

On the third floor, the robotics students were busy building and programming Lego Mindstorms robots. In groups of three, they designed and named their robot then coded them to navigate a maze.

Student Javier Gonzalez’ group named their robot “Chuck Norris.” He enrolled in the program with high hopes, and he hasn’t been let down.

“When I heard I could sign up for this program, I thought it would be a super cool thing and it is,” Gonzalez said.

He thinks the program is going to give him a leg up when he starts school at Guillen Middle School next month.

“We get to socialize and work with our partners,” he said. “It has helped me become more focused, and it has helped me learn how to build.”

Students learn the importance of a healthful life during the nutrition portion of the program. Dr. Herb Janssen from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center here in El Paso runs a urine analysis lab using his own secret recipe for fake urine, teaching students what markers to look for when testing for diabetes.

The program also provides an opportunity for high school students to volunteer their time to help the middle schoolers.

“We have about 30 EPISD high-school students who volunteer,” program coordinator Ashley Sheldon said. “They serve as mentors for the younger kids. They are in each classroom helping and talking to them about what they are learning. It’s a great experience overall for everyone. They all love the rotations, and it’s just really fun. We all have a great time.”

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