behind the scenes Carlmont's Biotechnology Institute: A Parent & Community Newsletter

A note from the editor

Volume 1 Issue 5

It is rarely just one person, one idea, or one source of funding that can create something new and amazing, but it is almost always a dreamer or two who dare to imagine what can be possible. BTI is a shining example of what a team of dreamers, leaders and supporters can accomplish with focused dedication, innovative thinking, and a deep desire to provide our BTI students with a one-of-a-kind educational program. What started out as an extended six week DNA unit developed by Tina Smith and Dan Raffa, with the support of the administration, led them to apply for a Specialized Secondary Program (SSP) grant to create the Biotechnology program at Carlmont. This 2001 grant for $376,000 over a course of 3-years is how they built the Biotech 1-2 and Biotech 3-4 labs and curriculum. Carlmont became a demonstration school for several years for the Department of Education. Then, as the popularity of these courses grew and additional classrooms were needed, Ms. Smith and Mr. Raffa applied for and were granted a six million dollar California State facilities grant to build state-of-the-art biotech labs in U-wing at Carlmont High School. They built three classrooms (U-20, U-21 and U-10), a conference room, student bathrooms, two prep rooms, a chemical room, and a growth room with the grant. Eventually, the district decided to extend the building and built the other side of U-hall. From there, Ms. Smith and Mr. Raffa with their growing team including Vera Jacobson, Susan Gold, and Jaime Abdilla, took the next leap in innovation by transforming the teaching model of learning in silos to developing a cross-curricular, science-centric model of learning that combines and connects each topic matter across all three disciplines in science, English and social studies. Finally, none of this would be possible without the ongoing support of the administration, notably Principal Crame and Superintendent Dr. Streshly. Thank you.

Now in its fourth year, Ms. Gold and Ms. Abdilla, the co-directors of BTI, work tirelessly (as you can see from the year’s newsletters) to work with their academic team [Ms. Burndon, Mr. Engberg, Ms. Moynihan, Ms. Pierce, and Ms. Manuel] to continue to hone their impressive and sophisticated science curriculum and labs, the thought provoking pieces of literature that allow students to consider the ethical and moral dilemmas of technological advancement, and the contemplation of the historical perspective and cultural milieu which has led to our modern world of technological advancement. Moreover, Ms. Gold and Ms. Abdilla work closely with Faith Velschow to integrate the students’ academic development with professional exposure and opportunities through their symposiums, year-long mentor program, some internship opportunities as well as field trips to biotech companies and science centers. Kim Miller, BTI's dedicated high school counselor, provides insightful high school and college advice while helping BTI seniors leverage their BTI experience on their college applications.

We, parents, are very grateful to you, the dreamers, the leaders and the supporters of this unique and robust academic program. We appreciate your ongoing commitment and efforts to make this happen. Let’s see what our BTI Dreamers, Leaders and Supporters have to say …

What our BTI educators are saying...

What do you feel sets BTI apart?

Why did you choose to be part of the BTI program?

Susan Gold - Co-director & English II and III teacher

Our education system compartmentalizes various academic subjects, and while teachers, of course, see the connections between their disciplines, they get little opportunity for cross-curricular collaboration. BTI takes an integrative approach to education. As a result, our students are not only immersed in science but also in an exploration of how science is integrated into ethical, political, cultural, and global concerns. Our students also get a meaningful exposure to the way science is practiced in the real world. They visit scientists at work and network with many professionals. BTI students graduate with an expansive and mature view of the world that will better prepare them for post-high school life, no matter what path they take.

I jumped at the chance to get involved in a small learning community where I would get to work closely with teachers from different disciplines and develop a relationship with my students over the course of three years. In developing the English II and English III curricula, I discovered that I am fascinated by practical applications of science and deeply enjoy exploring and discussing bioethics. That was an unanticipated bonus!

Jaime Abdilla - Co-Director & BioTech 1-2 and 3-4 instructor

The small learning community of BTI is a unique experience here at Carlmont. The specialized classes allow students to immerse themselves in science-based curriculum and blossom as academics. The community building that occurs in BTI make us feel like a family, which is so beneficial to our students.

When I was invited to be a BTI teacher I was very excited to be a part of this amazing community of teachers and students who share a common interest in science. Once I was immersed in community, I found that all of the BTI teachers are passionate about their students and curriculum. Having the same students over the course of two years allows me the opportunity to really know who they are, understand what they have going on in their lives, and grow as a family. I think BTI offers our students so much more than an education...it offers our students valuable life experiences.

Leslie Burdon - Biotech 1-2 and Biomanufacturing teacher

The students in BTI are really engaged in science and get an opportunity to develop that interest in a like-minded community. They form closer friendships and teamwork skills than they would be able to in the wider school because they get to spend so much time in their cohort. Also, scientific achievements can be celebrated in BTI in an encouraging environment - see the selfie I attached, where we all celebrated the "best gel of the year" when we finally got a procedure to work.

I love teaching students who care so much about my favorite subject. It's a gift to get to work with such talented, curious, and hard-working students (and staff).

Joshua engberg - Chemistry teacher

The project based learning promotes real world skills and is what sets BTI apart.

To be a part of a community focused on project based learning in a connected focused environment, instead of disconnected high school classes is why I am a part of BTI.

lindsey moynihan - History Teacher

The small learning community and "like family" feeling sets BTI apart.

I have both a social studies and a biological science credential, so it seemed a unique opportunity for my post-graduate background.

Julie Manuel - Econ/Govt Teacher

The students desire to understand how things work sets BTI apart.

I wanted to be part of a small learning community of students and teachers who work together to create a unique educational experience.

Carole Pierce - English teacher for seniors

BTI gives both students and teachers a sense of community that makes us feel connected to learning and teaching, so students are more engaged in their own education. The students have common ground in their interest in science, and the English and social studies classes give them context for the science they learn about now, and will work with in the future. The program gives a wide scope and background to create a learning environment that integrates all disciplines and helps students see the bigger picture of the subjects they study.

I am happy to have the opportunity to help students understand the context that surrounds their scientific endeavors. We get to look at the ethics, safety, politics, implications for the future, etc, of scientific discoveries, advances and uses. We follow thematic threads woven into scientific issues, the issues they are most interested in, to make students' learning both enriching and practical.

What our administrators, staff, past bti directors, & members of the parent development committee are saying about bti....

What do you feel sets BTI apart?

What has driven you to support BTI?

Ralph Crame - Principal

The collaborative learning that takes place in English, Science, and Social Studies. The BTI teachers work hard to make the learning connected in each of these subjects.

BTI has a small school feel and the relationships students build with their teachers and each other. It also allows students who have a strong interest in Science to pursue that passion and learn as much as they can with the project based learning extended to the other subjects. BTI gives students skills to be successful in their post-high school life.

faith velschow - Director, Mentoring & Career services

The teachers in the BTI program are exceptional and work together to make it a comprehensive program. The professional integration compliments their curriculum and truly sets the program apart from anything else on campus.

My passion comes from helping the students to see the connections between the day-to-day concepts that they are learning in the classroom to the careers that they will have as adults. I've always felt it's hard to strive for something that you don't really understand or even know exists, but if you can see it, you can start to picture yourself there and how you can achieve your goals.

tina smith - original dreamer

Students are bombarded with information. They attend at least five different classes a day, have 24/7 access to real-time news as well as data and cell phone apps that stream video and social media. Capturing student interest isn’t easy in any part of their lives, much less trying to hold student interest in class. The Biotechnology Institute (BTI) is able to do this by delivering information to students in a crisp, dynamic and intuitive way. By appealing to their personal interests and incorporating relevance, BTI is designed to attract students and hold their attention. BTI offers science-themed classes for students that want to learn the “why” of life; to learn how personal choices in education lead to a viable future. These classes are linked to one another with curricula that infuse common messages and themes, allowing students to draw connections that build on their natural inclinations and interest in science. This linking similarly strengthens learning in the other subjects, allowing for students’ entire experience in high school to be more positive and productive.

Not only does BTI provide equitable access to science and other subjects, but it also helps to create a steady pipeline of skilled applicants by introducing careers to students that offer well-paying jobs. San Mateo County faces a shortage of skilled applicants at a time where there is also an increase in retirements. By 2021, the Bay Area is expecting 136,600 jobs in Life Sciences and Biotechnology (Center of Excellence [COE]). Annual openings for all Biotechnology jobs are at 5,479 per year with a median hourly wage of $42.40 (COE). BTI exposes students to an industry that leads to high-demand, high/living-wage, high-growth careers in San Mateo County.

dr. vera jacobson - first director of bti

Science themed infused with career education in a cohort style of teaching sets BTI apart.

The outcomes for the students to further their education with a passion in science is why I support BTI.

some parents on the development committee

Lilia rauls

Carlmont BTI. This unique program supports students in building a community with their teachers, their mentors, and with each other. The students are immersed in science which is integrated with English and history. I was introduced to BTI during the open house. I was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm amongst the students. The teachers are supportive of their students and of BTI. These are the reasons that I support Carlmont BTI.

kim mcgrEIvy

BTI’s small learning community creates a nurturing environment where scientific curiosity and learning can flourish. My son is in the program. I am not able to help as much as I’d like but I do what I can because I’m grateful for the program and what it has given my son.

Heidi skrenta

Many students struggle to find a "home" in larger public schools. Common sources of community for these students include extracurriculars such as sports or performing arts. BTI is unique in that it provides a community for students interested in science, and the program is integrated through academic subjects as well as learning experiences outside the traditional school environment (e.g. mentors and internships in the Biotech/Science industry). I have volunteered in several capacities for schools and community organizations since my son started kindergarten nearly 15 years ago, and have come to appreciate the funding challenges faced by California public schools. I previously worked in the biotech/pharma industry, and think that BTI is a unique and valuable program that I would like to see replicated at other schools someday.

How parents can help

Financial support

BTI requires an annual budget of $150K and this year, thanks to the generous contributions from the Sequoia school district ($74,970), we have a starting budget of $75K. This academic year, our goal is to raise $105,000 to cover this year's expenses and give us a head start for next year.

  • Goal: $105, 000
  • Current BTI Donations thru CAF (Thanks parents!!): $26,000
  • Oracle: $20,000
  • Roche: $5,000
  • Check Point Software: $2,000
  • Carl Perkins State Grant thru Sequoia School District: $30,718
  • Funds needed to meet our goal: $21,282

May 8th - Stand up for public schools day

This will be the last big push for this academic school year. Please consider donating to BTI through CAF to help us meet our goal. But wait, you do not have to wait until May 8th, you can donate right now. Thank you!

Join the parent-teacher development committee

We are looking to expand our Parent Development Committee and would love your ideas and energy! We will need a Sophomore Class Rep for next year's incoming sophomores. If you can donate time and would like to help with some events or join the parent development committee, email fvelschow@seq.org.

other ways you can help

  • If you have access to supplies that can be donated to our science labs, contact Ms. Abdilla at jabdilla@seq.org.
  • If you have a knack for social media development, we can use your talents. Email fvelschow@seq.org
  • If you have fund-raising experience and ideas, we would love to hear them!
  • If you have other ways to help, just let us know!

Spring parent Mix and Mingle

A special shout out to all of you parents who attended the spring Mix and Mingle hosted by the President of the Parent Development Committee, Kevin Marks and his wife Leslie. Parents from all three classes including the new incoming class of 2022 came with questions, shared stories and good cheer! Building a supportive and engaged parent community is another benefit of this unique BTI program. Thank you Kevin and Leslie!

Super Fun Night for all!

BTI Social events

Valentine making party

Just in time for Valentine's Day, BTI students came together to make Valentines... well... actually... mostly eat and hang out. See for yourselves!

Who doesn't like "slime"?

There are some things that defy age, and that is making slime! Another BTI student bonding event in March was Slime Fest. However, unlike the experience that of many of them may have had in elementary school, this time they actually can understand the chemistry of slime. Just take a look at the solutions, colors, goop, and expressions of these chemists!

BTI club annual social

Carlmont's BTI Club hosts an annual social that is designed to gather BTI students from all grade levels for a social event chalk full of food, fun, games, music and lots of laughter. From table tennis to board games to ping pong cups, I think everyone would agree that WEI's Dance Dance on big screen was the biggest hit! Even many of our newest members of BTI, the class of 2022, came to see what all the fuss was about.

Lunch first! Just look at all the BTI students!
Our graduating seniors...Class of 2019!
Our Juniors - Class of 2020
Our Sophomores - Class of 2021
Our Freshmen - Incoming Class of 2022

congratulations to this junior bti student!

This BTI student comes to Carlmont's BTI program with a rich and deep participation in science fairs. Starting in middle school, he began racking up award after award, making it to the California State Science fair every year and in many of those years, winning all the way up to first place in his category. This year, he won First Place at the San Mateo County Science Fair, First Place at the Golden Gate Stem Fair and the Grand Prize in Upper Division Physical Science which earns him an all expense paid trip to Intel's ISEF competition in Arizona. Congratulations! He'll being going to State again this year with his award winning project. Good Luck!

Art or Science? String-Bow Interactions on a Novel Optoelctronic Cello

The goal of his project is to investigate correlations between the perceived quality of cello bows and rosins, and string behavior in the time domain. This is done using an opto-electronic cello which utilizes novel optical sensors to directly and independently monitor the vibrations of each of the cello’s strings. If measurable criteria correlating subjective and objective observations can be established, then this will provide guidance for the development and evaluation of cello bows and rosins.

Two distinct trends have been found which link the perceived quality of the cello bows and rosins to the behavior of the bow-string interaction. With (perceived) higher quality bows and rosins:

  • The transition time from bow touch to achieve stable tone is shorter.
  • The ability to maintain a stable tone is greater.

The magic of playability is in the transitions!

Field Trip to Novartis

The sophomore class had the opportunity to take a field trip to Novartis where employees organized tours of their facility, presented talks on careers, the history of the FDA, the life cycle of engineering projects, how ideas move from brainstorms to solutions to wins, as well as leading interactive demos.

Thank-you Novartis for providing our students with an in depth overview of Biotech.

Day's Agenda - novartis

Super Impressive

Upcoming schedule of events

  • May 2 -BTI Mentor Breakfast - 9:00 a.m.
  • May 8th - Stand up for Public Schools
  • May 20 - BTI Biomanufacturing Presentation - Seniors present their products. 5:30-7 pm in U20
  • May 29 - Spring Study Night for Finals
  • May 30 - BTI Mentor Thank-You Event - 7:00 p.m. [Hosted by Kevin and Leslie Marks]
  • June 5 - BTI's 2019 Senior Graduation - 6:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Carlmont


As a BTI parent, I think I can safely say that we all want to extend our deepest gratitude to you, the dreamers, leaders and supporters, for your tireless effort in ensuring that our BTI students have a memorable, challenging, thought-provoking, and enjoyable BTI education at Carlmont High School. It is abundantly clear that without the ambition and direction of our teachers, the efforts of Ms. Velschow, the support and leadership of our administration and school district, this program would not exist. Thank you!

We hope you enjoyed this month's overview of the many professionals who are responsible for the BTI program and its history, as well as providing an overview of BTI's winter events. Stay tuned for our next issue that will feature the accomplishments of our students as presented during Open House. Students were poised, articulate, and enthusiastic when presenting their impressive and thought-provoking projects at Open House.

Contact Information

  • Susan Gold - Co-Director of BTI: sgold@seq.org
  • Jaime Abdilla - Co-Director of BTI: jabdilla@seq.org
  • Faith Velschow - Director of Mentoring and Career Services: fvelschow@seq.org 650-591-7502
  • Kevin Marks – President of the BTI Development Committee: kevin.marks@roche.com
  • Cheryl Shelmadine - Sophomore Parent Rep and newsletter editor: service@copyteclegal.com
  • Tanya Rianda - Junior Parent Rep: tanya.rianda@gmail.com
  • Kim McGreivy - Senior Parent Rep: kmcgreivy@live.com

Please feel free to submit articles, stories and/or photos to the editor of our Parent & Community BTI newsletter. We would love to feature what your amazing BTI student is up to!

go bti scots!

Past Editions

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