Field trip brings class to life

Camas forensics students tour Portland Police training facility

Camas High School forensic science teacher Alixandra Coker wears a police vest to feel the weight of it without the extra gear officers normally carry, during a forensics field trip to the Portland Police Bureau on April 26.

A Camas High forensic science class is giving students a chance to learn about crime scene observations, blood spatter, fingerprinting and ballistics.

The local forensics students abandoned the classroom in late April in favor of a true on-the-scene learning environment at the Portland Police Bureau in Portland, Oregon, where professional forensic investigators helped the teens apply their high school coursework to the real world.

Camas High forensic science teacher Alixandra Coker said the students heard presentations from criminalists and a ballistics expert and SWAT member during their April 26 field trip.

The students participated in discussions about officer-involved shootings and walked through “training villages,” to learn how officers train for various scenarios and learn to make split-second decisions in the field.

The Portland Police criminalists took students through the basics on crime scene observations, blood spatter, fingerprinting and photography — many of the same things Coker said they’ve reviewed in their Camas High classes.

The Camas teacher said taking her students to meet real-life experts is a valuable learning experience.

“It helps strengthen lessons, because students are hearing it from someone who actually uses it in the field,” Coker said. “I don’t go in-depth into ballistics, so this allowed students to learn from an expert and see actual gear that they wouldn’t be able to see at school.”

Camas High student Kaleb Henderson said he enjoyed a presentation by a Portland Police SWAT team member and ballistics officer — a forensic specialist responsible for collecting and analyzing ballistics evidence such as firearms and ammunition — who showed students the impact of a bullet going through substances like glass and gel at different angles.

The fact that the students were able to view different crime scenes and actually see a dead body during their trip to the Portland Police Bureau impacted Camas junior Aleena Zamora.

“They talked with us about that, and gave us more insight on what they do,” Zamora said. “It was fun and interesting, because it’s kind of weird seeing a dead person at our age. But we’re in forensics, and it’s cool to see something that actually happened.”

The Camas forensic science course is, according to the high school’s forecasting documents, “intended for those interested in learning the discipline of forensic science and crime scene investigations” and open to any student who earned a passing grade in physical science.

For some students, the trip gave them better insight into what a career in forensics might look like.

Student Sapphire Nyte, for instance, said the day’s foray into the world of fingerprint and hair sample collection sparked her interest in forensic-related jobs like coroner or medical examiner.

For Coker, the annual trip to the Portland Police Bureau also means her students have a chance to talk to actual law enforcement and forensics experts and gain a better understanding of the real people working regional crime-scene investigations.

Camas junior Kennadee Cuff said the trip helped open her eyes to police officers’ daily routines.

“I think it was definitely more engaging and in my opinion more interesting,” Cuff said. “It really applies to our everyday lives, because there’s always police around us and they’re always protecting us and there to help when we need them.”

The April 26 trip was the second time Coker brought forensic science students to the Portland Police Bureau’s training facility. The Camas teacher said she hopes the field trip will become a regular part of her course for many years to come.