Liberty Partnership Students Get a Brainy Lesson

CANTON — Some winced while others oohed, as about 25 local high school students participating in the Liberty Partnership Program had the opportunity to touch real animal brains as a part of their visit to St. Lawrence University.

But before they got to the gooey part, students from Massena, Morristown and St. Lawrence central high schools took part in a lecture with Ana Estevez, associate professor of biology and psychology, at St. Lawrence University’s Johnson Hall of Science.

Estevez began her lecture by asking students what they already knew about the brain. Few students had much to contribute in the beginning. However, interest in the subject began to grow, as more interesting facts about brains were presented to them. Students also appeared to enjoy answering questions using “clickers,” a device about the size of a remote control that records student responses.

Estevez discussed her own area of expertise in neuroscience, an interdisciplinary field that includes biology, chemistry and psychology, among other fields. She also discussed different types of brain injuries, including ischemic (strokes), neurodegenerative – such as Alzheimer’s – and trauma, including injuries incurred playing sports even with protective gear.

Kaitlyn Wilson and Meaghan Barker from the Morristown school district said they learned things they didn’t know about the brain during Estevez’s lecture.

“I’m interested in psychology,” said Kaitlyn who is in 11th grade. “So this sort of reinforced my interest in psychology.”

As Estevez tossed small, rubber brain erasers to those who answered her questions correctly, more and more students started answering questions and participating in the discussion.

Meaghan, who is in 10th grade and home-schooled, was quick to answer several questions during the lecture. She was eager to go to the lab because she hopes to become a medical examiner one day.

“I can’t wait to touch the brains,” she said, just before moving into the laboratory. “This is something I want to do, so it’s fun to get to experience things like this.”

Sally Vrooman, Liberty Partnership coordinator for Morristown, said the partnership between local high schools and the colleges in the North Country is unique.

“Most Liberty Partnership program are in urban areas, so it’s rare to have one of these programs located in a rural region of the state,” she said. “SLU and LPP have formed a beautiful partnership due in large part to the willingness of SLU faculty to reach out to area students in an effort to enrich their knowledge of science.”

Liberty Partnership is a New York State-funded program that promotes collaboration between post-secondary institutions, community organizations, school districts, businesses and industries, parents and volunteers. The program selects students in grades seven through 12 based on free and reduced lunch programs, a failed grade, parents without a high school diploma, or students who have accumulated multiple absences. St. Lawrence regularly delivers lectures to Liberty Partnership students and also supplies its own students as tutors to program participants.