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District News

Byram Hills Wins Award Celebrating Female Representation in Computer Science

Byram Hills High School has won an AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, an honor from the College Board that recognizes schools that are closing the gender gap and engaging more girls in computer science.

Byram Hills won the new award for having high female representation in the AP Computer Science Principles course during the last school year, the first time the class was offered at the high school.

Students Win Award Celebrating Female Representation in Computer Science

Byram Hills High School has won an AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, an honor from the College Board that recognizes schools that are closing the gender gap and engaging more girls in computer science. The school won the award for 2018, when 65 percent of students who took the AP exam for the class were female. This year, 60 percent of the class is female. This year’s female students in the class are, in front from left: Alexa Schimel, Ellie DeGeorges, Katie Colella, Joely Coviello, Megan Hwang, and in the back from left: Stella Recht, Hailey Jacobs, Jordyn Green, Dylan Starker, Vivien Flokas, Maggie Walsh, and Olivia Conte. Missing from photo: Jordan Dorfman.

“I am thrilled that Byram Hills has been given this honor,” said Lisa Pellegrino, the Byram Hills mathematics chairperson. “This is a testament to the District encouraging students to take risks and become 21st-century leaders.”

The award is given to schools that have either 50 percent or more female representation in one of two AP computer sciences courses or a percentage of girls who took the AP exam for the course that is greater than the school’s female population. Byram Hills met both criteria, with female students representing 65 percent of test takers, according to the College Board.

Out of the more than 18,000 schools that offer AP classes, Byram Hills was one of 490 schools that earned the award for the AP Computer Science Principles class.

This year, 60 percent of students in the class are female.

The course provides an introduction to computer science, with an aim of making the field more accessible. Byram Hills offers a more rigorous version of the course.

“Because of this we are really giving students the knowledge to be successful, should they choose computer science as a major, a minor, or if they just want to take one class in college,” Ms. Pellegrino said.

Students do not need a computer science background to take the course.

“We have artists and business-minded students and scientists who are recognizing the impact and relevance of computer science to their particular field of study,” Ms. Pellegrino said.

“We have students who are just now being exposed to programming but have grabbed onto it and have been able to think at a level I had not achieved until my sophomore year as a computer science major,” she added. “That is what is great about computer science - you can learn so much in such a short period of time.”

The course is already having an effect. Two female students who took the class last year as seniors are now majoring in computer science in college, Ms. Pellegrino said.

“In some respects, they are more successful than their traditional counterparts who have more programming experience because they learned the elements of iterative design and proper debugging of their programs through the AP Computer Science Principles course,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “They also understand more than just one particular programming language.”

“They have been exposed to a variety of different languages and programming environments, and also have an understanding of how those languages fit in with the rest of computer science,” she said.

“The best part of the AP CSP class is that it prepares students not just to study computer science, but provides skills that any student can immediately list on their resume,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “It also provides students with a way of thinking that is applicable to any profession.”

Byram Hills High School Science Research Student Wins Upstate Science Competition

Byram Hills High School’s Joshua Freedman won the top prize and a $2,000 scholarship and Renner Kwittken finished fourth at the Upstate New York Junior Science and Humanities Symposium last week.

Joshua Freedman

The strong finish allows both seniors in the high school’s three-year Authentic Science Research Program to advance to the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico, later this month.

At the regional competition held on March 27 and 28 at the University at Albany, Joshua and Renner were among the six finalists who competed by giving 12-minute presentations on their research. Joshua competed in the biomedical science category; Renner’s work was in the biochemistry category.

Renner Kwitten

“I am very proud of them both,” said Stephanie Greenwald, Director of the Byram Hills Authentic Science Research Program. “They worked extremely hard at articulating complex scientific research so the public can understand the work they’re passionate about. It’s always nice to see more students in the science research program being recognized for their outstanding work.”

Joshua’s research focused on targeting nanoparticles for cancer diagnosis and treatment. His project involved creating a novel targeted anti-cancer nanoparticle that binds to a receptor only expressed in cancer. He found that his nanoparticle specifically bound to cancer cells in vitro. In the future, this could allow doctors to create sharper and more accurate images of tumors.

Renner’s work also involved nanoparticles. The goal of his research was to enhance the delivery of nanoparticles, small medicines that are less than the width of a strand of hair. He synthesized three novel nanoparticles and improved their delivery using a standard FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, cyclophosphamide. His results were found in mice models and could potentially work in clinical trials, moving nanoparticles into the forefront of anti-cancer therapy.

In New Mexico, Joshua will compete with an oral presentation. Renner will be a poster presenter.

Emma Lucchino

Also in Albany, Byram Hills senior Emma Lucchino won third place as a poster presenter. She analyzed the relationship between the bacteria living in our gut and in our immune system

Byram Hills High School senior Brent Perlman won seventh place in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search

Byram Hills High School proudly announces that senior Brent Perlman has won seventh place and a $70,000 award in the renowned Regeneron Science Talent Search for his biological engineering research that involved inducing photosynthesis in human stem cells.

Brent, 17, won the honor Tuesday night at the annual awards gala in Washington, and was one of 10 students to win top prizes. The competition, run by the Society for Science & the Public, bills itself as the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

BHHS senior Brent Perlman won seventh place in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search

Byram Hills High School senior Brent Perlman won seventh place in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search at the event’s annual awards gala on Tuesday night.
Chris Ayers Photography/Society for Science & the Public

For his research, Brent designed a process to induce photosynthesis in human cells for the first time, which could have applications in the treatment of heart attack, stroke and cancer. He achieved this accomplishment by isolating chloroplasts, the photosynthetic components of plant cells, from baby spinach leaves, and culturing them with human cells.

“I am so honored and excited to have won seventh place in the Regeneron Science Talent Search and cannot thank the Society for Science & the Public and Regeneron enough for this award,” Brent said.

“I plan on putting my $70,000 toward my biological education and research, and am inspired to continue my work with chloroplasts and human photosynthesis,” he added. “With this award, my dream of one day creating impactful chloroplast therapies comes one step closer to reality.”

Deb Cayea, chairperson of the Byram Hills science department, called Brent an extraordinary person and a leader.

“His contributions to the scientific community, as a young scholar, are really, really exceptional,” she said. “I’m so happy his work has been recognized nationally. The universe will benefit from Brent’s talents. He is truly a special person and I’m sure that his passion for science research will continue to manifest in great things.”

Brent’s research involved photosynthesis, the process plants use to produce oxygen and sugar from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The ability of human cells to photosynthesize allows them to generate oxygen, which they are normally unable to produce. The oxygen produced by these photosynthetic cells promotes healthy tissue and organ development and growth, and can help treat different diseases.

Brent's research also has applications in the engineering of functional organs in a lab, the delivery of biopharmaceuticals to affected human cells in the body and even space travel. Brent, a student in the Byram Hills three-year Authentic Science Research Program, has a patent pending for his work.

“We are all so proud of Brent's accomplishments,” said Stephanie Greenwald, the program’s director. “He is a daring, determined scientist who has been an inspiration to everyone in the program and a constant reminder of the power of combining creativity with curiosity. His success is shared by the Byram Hills Authentic Science Research Program and the whole school community.”

Brent thanked those who helped make his success possible, including his high school teachers and his mentors at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“I am so grateful for my Byram Hills High School Authentic Science Research teachers Mrs. Stephanie Greenwald, Dr. Caroline Matthew, and Mrs. Megan Salomone, for their amazing support and advice over the past three years,” he said. “Without their help, I would never be the researcher that I am today. My mentors, Dr. Glenn Gaudette and Dr. Joshua Gershlak, and my parents also supported me every step of the way.”

In the fall, Brent plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he will study in the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences & Management.

Seven Byram Hills Seniors Named Scholars in Regeneron Science Talent Search, One Moving on To Final Round

     Seven seniors at Byram Hills High School were named scholars in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search, an honor that recognizes the high-level, independent research they conducted in the high school’s three-year Authentic Science Research Program.
     The students who earned the distinction were Samantha Abbruzzese, Alan Chang, Rachel Chernoff, Alessandra Colella, Ethan Jacobs, Brent Perlman and Jonah Schwam.

The Byram Hills High School seniors named scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search

The Byram Hills High School seniors named scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, are, from left in the back, Alessandra Colella, Alan Chang, Ethan Jacobs, Jonah Schwam; in front from left, Samantha Abbruzzese, Rachel Chernoff and Brent Perlman

     The students were overjoyed when they learned the news on January 9, hugging and cheering along with their proud teachers. They were among the 300 students selected as scholars from nearly 2,000 entrants. Each scholar was awarded $2,000 and the high school received $14,000 for STEAM education.
     Two weeks later, Byram Hills celebrated again when Brent was named one of 40 finalists who will compete for the top honors in Washington, D.C.

Brent Perlman

Brent Perlman

     This year, Byram Hills had the highest number of scholars in Westchester County and the third highest in the state. In the 30 years the school has competed in the Science Talent Search, Byram Hills has had 111 scholars; 20 of them have gone on to become finalists.
     The strong showing reflects the school’s commitment to fostering curiosity and creating new knowledge, Principal Christopher Walsh said.
     “We are incredibly proud of all of our seniors who submitted projects to the Regeneron Science Talent Search,” Mr. Walsh said. “This has been an incredible journey for them and one that cannot be duplicated in many traditional high school courses. These students have all added to the collective knowledge of humanity, which can never be taken away from them. I am so happy for the seven seniors who were named scholars by Regeneron.”
     In March, Brent will travel to the nation’s capital, where he will display his work and undergo a rigorous judging process. The finalists will compete for $1.8 million in awards, with a top prize of $250,000.
     In his biological engineering research, Brent induced photosynthesis in human cells for the first time by isolating chloroplasts, the photosynthetic components of plant cells, from baby spinach leaves. He cultured the chloroplasts with human cells and conducted photosynthesis.
     The ability of human cells to photosynthesize allows them to generate oxygen, which they are normally unable to produce. The oxygen promotes healthy tissue and organ development and growth.
     Brent's research has applications in the engineering of functional organs in a lab; the treatment of heart attacks, strokes, and cancer; the delivery of biopharmaceuticals to affected human cells in the body; and even space travel.
     “Brent is a true scientist,” said Stephanie Greenwald, director of the Byram Hills Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program. “From the moment I met him he asked thoughtful questions, took enormous risks with his work and did all of this with great kindness and appreciation for those around him. We are all so proud of his accomplishment.”
     Brent is excited to compete as a finalist.
     “It’s thrilling to be recognized by such a prestigious competition, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share my research with such a large audience,” he said. “I’m eager for my work to be displayed in Washington as this recognition increases the chances that its applications could one day help improve the lives of people suffering from a variety of debilitating diseases.”
     Mr. Walsh noted Brent’s dedication to his research, adding: “His work has the potential to have such a huge impact on society and yet he is still as humble as ever. Congratulations to the entire Authentic Science Research Program.”
     The talent search, which is run by Society for Science & the Public, calls itself the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Winners have gone on to win top science and math honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 13 National Medals of Science.

Here’s a look at our other scholars’ work:

Samantha Abbruzzese:  Samantha investigated the development of neurons from a mouse model of Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. She determined the impact that different gene-regulating proteins have on these neurons. The findings of her study could be used to develop a therapeutic approach for patients with Huntington's disease.

Alan Chang: Alan’s work focused on understanding how a specific tumor suppressor gene mutation promotes cancer progression, an important step in improving the development of cancer treatments. He programmed a novel computational method of analyzing cells using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, and ultimately found several ways in which the tumor grew faster via immune evasion.

Rachel Chernoff: Rachel's novel study used ischemic preconditioning, a research technique that protects the brain from further deterioration during a future stroke by depriving the brain of its blood supply in small amounts for brief periods. She also noticed behavioral differences after ischemic preconditioning between male and female mice, which may point to a hormonal difference. Together, her results lay the groundwork for the use of ischemic preconditioning as a potential preventative technique to reduce the damage from strokes.

Alessandra Colella: Using novel statistical measures, Alessandra investigated if variable responses in neuropsychological tests could be an indicator of the fogginess known as chemo-brain. Her findings could lead to a more accurate way of measuring cognitive decline in cancer patients.

Ethan Jacobs: Ethan mapped the population of river otter, beaver, muskrat, and raccoon species in three rivers in the Northeast. He used a novel method based on environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to detect excreted DNA in collected water samples. His results help to further develop overall eDNA-based research, provide data for the distribution of mammal species in multiple rivers, and enhance the time and cost efficiency of population mapping methodology.

Jonah Schwam: Duchenne muscular dystrophy, caused by a point mutation on the DMD gene, leads to progressive decay in muscle tissue; however, it remains unknown which muscle cell type is most affected. Jonah used a novel CRISPR gene editing system to create modified muscle tissue consisting of dystrophic mature muscle cells and cured muscle stem cells. This model demonstrated the relative importance of muscle stem cells in regenerating dystrophic muscle tissue, optimizing all future gene therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Byram Hills High School Pilots Math Instruction that Focuses on Students’ Sense of Place

     Math students at Byram Hills High School left pen and paper behind and went outside to draw graphs on the pavement in chalk, adding their own bodies to create the third dimension and bringing their algebra, trigonometry and calculus studies to life.
     Under a sunny sky, precalculus students stood on the football field and used ribbons to represent vectors as they worked to determine the distance between their position and a point in the stands.

Math students at Byram Hills High School drew graphs on the pavement in chalk

Math students at Byram Hills High School drew graphs on the pavement in chalk and used their own bodies to create the third dimension in one place-based math lesson.

     In another instance, they ran and crouched in a bear crawl across a field to simulate swimming as they used calculus to figure an optimal path between two points by putting each form of movement to its most efficient use.
     These lessons came as the high school began piloting the use of place-based learning in several units of math instruction in spring 2018 through a partnership with the University of Michigan School of Education. It’s the start of a gradual shift at the high school toward more student-centered instruction and standards-based assessments — an approach that emphasizes authentic learning over traditional testing.
     Place-based education is a teaching method that draws upon questions and issues that arise in the students’ own local, national and global communities and natural environment, their sense of place. It seeks to incorporate students’ life experiences into the classroom and bring topics that students are naturally curious about into their learning.
     By focusing on real-world problems that students feel connected to, giving students a greater sense of independence in their learning and inviting them to be more active participants in their learning, place-based instruction aims to increase student engagement and motivation. These factors, University of Michigan experts believe, can help prevent the academic stress that has become too common in high school life.
     Dr. Elizabeth Moje, dean of the School of Education, said she was grateful for the partnership with “the talented teachers and leaders at Byram Hills High School on this innovative placebased learning project that strives to create a more supportive environment for addressing students’ personal and academic needs.”
     “The instructional strategies, lessons, and research developed through this program will serve as a compelling model for mathematics educators to equip children and youth with the skills, motivation, and self-efficacy necessary to engage deeply in learning opportunities that are inquiry-based and meaningful,” she said. “As a result, young adults will develop a foundation for future academic and career success while also understanding how to connect what they learn to the world and their communities.”
     Principal Christopher Walsh, who says the place-based math units have helped the mathematics “jump out of the textbook,” believes that this type of instruction will enrich the learning and the lives of all students.
     “It is more real world and it offers students the opportunity to discover math rather than being given math. It involves more critical thinking, it is more open-ended and it is moving away from the idea that there is only one correct answer in mathematics,” Mr. Walsh said. “It is more aligned with the real type of work that our students will be doing in college and after in their jobs.”
     “The primary goal is to offer ways of delivering math that are not traditional, with the hope that it will lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety over the long haul, and lead to greater learning,” he added. “We’re very excited to have a partnership with such a great place like the University of Michigan. We know we’re getting the best and the most current information.”

Math teacher Christopher Lewick and precalculus students participate in a lab in December

Math teacher Christopher Lewick and precalculus students participate in a lab in December that focused on the flow rate of water as they tried to determine why areas near the high school are prone to flooding during heavy rain.

     Before teachers began the place-based units, the mathematics chairperson, Lisa Pellegrino, and three precalculus teachers, William LaRue, Christopher Lewick and Stephen Skonieczny, traveled to Eleuthera in the Bahamas during spring recess last year for professional development with University of Michigan researchers. A generous grant made the trip and the place-based math instruction at Byram Hills possible.
     The teachers spent time at the Island School, which has a place-based curriculum, and participated in place-based learning of their own.
     For one activity, the teachers stood on a sandbar and had to calculate the distance to the horizon. On another day, they were on an uninhabited island and were asked to determine their location in terms of longitude and latitude. They used a sextant, a navigational instrument, and math to pinpoint their location.
     The trip gave the teachers a new perspective. Even before their flight home, they were brainstorming ways they could begin sharing this learning style with students.
     “There was an excitement and emotion and a passion in math that was reinvigorated as part of that trip,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “The shift was immediate. The next day, teachers were already doing things differently.”
     The biggest place-based math effort to date came in December, when about 120 precalculus students participated in a lab that tried to answer a question about why areas near the school are prone to flooding, focusing on the flow rate of water. Researchers from Michigan, who are studying how educators can make incremental change in their teaching approach, were on hand to observe.
     Dr. Amanda Milewski, the School of Education’s project investigator for the partnership, said place-based instruction is a good fit for Byram Hills because it may aid students who are intensely worried about their future. 
     “Place-based learning can help prevent stress and anxiety in high schoolers by helping students to focus on engaging productively with problems that are bigger than themselves,” she said. “It is in vogue around the country now as educators try to make subject matter more relevant and increase engagement and motivation.”
     The lessons have been well received by Byram Hills students and teachers, Ms. Pellegrino said.
     “It is great to see how much autonomy these types of activities provide our students,” she said. “These activities have enabled students to develop a deeper, more emotional connection to the content. As a result, they are less focused on academic stressors and instead are focused on engaging with the material.”
     More place-based math units are being developed, and Mr. Walsh hopes to expand the use of the teaching method to all content areas. The best learning happens, he says, when it is student- centered, focused on real-world experiences and involves more authentic assessments.
     “Place-based learning very much aligns with the values of our learning community and the mission of our district,” he said.