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Photo Essay

Zoology and botany magnet school comes to Miami-Dade County

  • Sophomores take their annual slough slogging expedition at Everglades National Park, left, as they explore how slight changes in elevation and water chemistry can drastically modify the terrain and biodiversity.
  • Freshmen study lionfish in an effort to eradicate the invasive species from Biscayne Bay. They analyze stomach contents and egg-load counts to understand such creatures.
  • BioTECH students use state-of-the-art digital microscopy and analytical laboratories. Sometimes, however, there just isn’t a substitute for a hand lens, above.
  • Students explore their findings after sampling wildlife from Everglades National Park, below.
  • Freshmen work on propagating 1 million individual orchids representing eight native and critically endangered species

Invasive fish species can harm Florida’s waterways.

And now students from Miami-Dade County’s BioTECH @ Richmond Heights work with Zoo Miami scientists to monitor the invaders and their effects on local lakes.

The conservation-biology-focused STEM high school—which opened in 2014-15 with help from an $11 million federal grant—focuses on zoology, botany, genetics, ecology, chemistry and environmental sciences.

BioTECH, which has 16 Miami-Dade teachers, works with the Zoological Society of Florida, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Discovery Education and the Buck Institute. These partners provide additional personnel to teach courses and complete research projects with students.

Freshmen take project-based zoology, research and experimental courses to hone their lab and field data collection skills. In 10th grade, the program focuses on botany. By junior year, students pick a specific STEM subject to study.

In the botanical lab at the school’s Richmond Campus, students research the interaction between plants and animals. In one project, they study techniques for breeding critically endangered orchids. The DNA and genetics lab also offers aspiring biologists a chance to work with thermal cyclers, protein and DNA electrophoresis equipment and centrifuges.

The BioTECH Research Station campus—located in Zoo Miami—houses biology, chemistry, ecology and zoology labs for students to better understand the human impact on Miami’s biological resources. Students are breeding butterfly species whose habitats have been threatened or wiped out by commercial development.

The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is home to the third campus, The Science Village @ Fairchild. It features advanced tissue culture, DNA and digital microscopy labs. In one project, students are working with the botanical garden and NASA to evaluate growing herbs for use on the International Space Station one day.

“Our goal is that by the time they graduate, our students should have both participated in a real scientific experiment and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal,” says Assistant Principal Dan Matteo, who co-founded and designed the school.