CSI: West Deptford Middle School
Wendy Rooney's language arts class got a visit from Det. Cpl. Richard Henry to round out their reading unit on mysteries. Crime solving creates critical thinkers, she says.
Ne'er-do-wells in West Deptford, beware: Wendy Rooney's sixth-grade class (Team 6B at West Deptford Middle School) is just itching for a new case to crack.
Together with her teaching partner, Nicole Hopkins, Rooney created a mystery unit that is designed to be a gateway to deeper, higher-skilled reading and critical thinking. That unit was supplemented by an in-school visit from West Deptford Det. Cpl. Richard Henry on Friday.
It's the perfect exercise for plastic, young minds, she said.
"We use higher-level reading skills," Rooney said. "The intention is to make them more creative thinkers, and kids love mysteries."
"Our teacher gives us the cases and we try to solve them," said Connor Woods, 11. Woods showed off his case folder, which Rooney designed to resemble those used by police.
"We have a case report and who we think would be the person that did the crime," he said. "I like that we get to challenge ourselves with different mysteries."
Team 6B has also been supplementing its reading with the web series Ruby Skye, P.I. and with mini-narratives from the kids section of MysteryNet.com, said Jamie Cesaro, 11.
Cesaro loves the interactivity of the unit. (Her favorite was "The Case of the Ruined Roses.")
"They're so computer literate, they rely so much on the computer, that they still need to be able to revise and edit their work," Rooney said. "They need to be able to be strong writers, because they use persuasion in every aspect of their life.
"I want these kids to leave here not just prepared for 7th grade, but for their education and beyond," she said.
'They're little sponges'
"Our job is nothing like you see on TV," Henry told students. "I wish I could solve crimes in 30-40 minutes."
Dusting for prints is fun, Henry said, but he told the group that in addition, his job is to examine the environment in which a crime occurs, seeking out eyewitness accounts and surveillance footage.
A reminder that human beings are constantly and passively shedding their skin, creating a DNA trail, met with a ripple of "Ewws" from the class, but underscored for students how much physical evidence is a part of detective work.
Henry, who is also a district D.A.R.E. officer, said he loves interacting with the students because of "how inquisitive they are.
"They’re little sponges and they want to get every bit of information that we have," he laughed. "And it’s also good dealing with kids like this because you get to have a more positive influence.
"It’s a great rapport-building thing, and I can't tell you how many times you see kids five, 10 years later that are willing to help you out," Henry said.