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Northeast Participates in National Geographic Project

Above: Students worked together to research “The Human Journey.”

Where do you really come from? And how did you get to where you live today? The students and staff at Northeast School embarked on a unique journey to find out.

It began with a cheek swab and participation in National Geographic’s Genographic Project, a multi-year research initiative led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots.

A Northeast parent learned about the landmark study and brought it to the attention of global studies teacher Carole Jecki who thought it would be a perfect fit for the magnet theme of the school. “This isn’t really an elementary school project. In fact, we are the only elementary school in the country that we know of that is participating,” said Jecki. “At Northeast we are completely immersed in geography so it was easy to work it into the curriculum.”


Global Studies teacher Carole Jecki explains the migratory path of staff members.
Jecki wrote a grant that would give the school the opportunity to purchase the Genographic Project kits which included a DVD, visual instructions on how to collect a DNA sample using a cheek scraper, a map illustrating human migratory history, a swab kit, instructions, and a self-addressed envelope in which to return your cheek swab sample.

Jecki, along with Principal Joseph Putrino and six other teachers, (one from each grade level), took DNA cheek swabs. In eight weeks the staff got their results. Then it was time to integrate what they learned into the classrooms.

“We created a map that showed the geneology of the staff,” explained Jecki. “You get a story of your ancestors’ genetic journey, of how they populated the globe. Like a tree, it all began at the roots and then branched out into different directions.”

One finding in particular was interesting. Third grade teacher Kay Whang discovered through her DNA sequence that her distant ancestors lived in Asia (Siberia) first, then crossed over a land bridge known as Beringia to finally reach and populate the Americas.

Jecki worked with each grade level to understand migration – whether it be animals (the lower grades) or people. “It was exciting for them,” said Jecki. “They found it fascinating that three teachers who look nothing alike share the same group. It showed them we’re not as different as you think.”

Below: Principal Joseph Putrino, Jecki and other teachers participated in the project.

Article Date: Jun 13, 2011