Pupils at the new Mendip Studio School to develop bio-technology in Rwanda

An innovative biotechnology project developed at Writhlington school is set to become a key component of the curriculum at the Mendip Studio School which will open on the Writhlington Campus in September 2015.

Eight young people, aged 14 to 17, from Frome, Radstock and surrounding villages have just returned from an expedition to the mountain rainforests of Rwanda in Central Africa which promises to improve the lives of the local population and help with long term conservation.

The students, along with three staff, spent two weeks working with colleges and schools in Rwanda to build capacity for conservation and science education through laboratory based production of Rwanda’s rarest plants.

Home for the team was Kitabi College of Conservation and Land Management on the edge of Nyungwe National Park.

Fifteen year old Maisha Harvey from Frome explained, “We arrived in Rwanda with the essentials to build a high tech aseptic laboratory and took two days to convert part of the college library into a Rwanda’s first propagation lab.”

Once the laboratory was finished, the next step was training and knowledge sharing with staff and diploma students from Kitabi College. The pupil team ran workshop sessions on orchid diversity, structure, ecology and laboratory culture as well as leading forest learning walks where the knowledge learned could be applied. Comments from Diploma students who will become the leaders in national parks across Central and East Africa included recognition that the experience will increase their ability to support conservation and involve future generations in working sustainably with biodiversity.

The Writhlington team then broadened their target audience, bussing school children from three of Rwanda’s city schools out to Kitabi and the Nyungwe rainforest. Devin Read and Ike Shakleton, both 17, ran classroom activities around orchid diversity in Rwanda. “The sessions were great fun.” Noted Devin, “the school pupils were really excited to discover the significance of Rwanda’s orchids and really enjoyed learning about their special ecology.”

According to Tom Forsythe, aged 16, the most exciting experience was taking Rwandan school children into their rainforest for the first time. “The school students really enjoyed the forest. They were eager to apply their new knowledge and particularly keen to find some of the many Rwandan endemic species found in the Nyungwe national park.”

Expedition leader Simon Pugh-Jones MBE, who is part of the Mendip Studio School lead team explained, “ We have put together plans for more collaboration over the next few years including enterprise initiatives and developing advanced practical science in Rwandan classrooms. This work is just one example of the wide range of projects that will give Studio School students opportunities to lead in the development and design of innovative solutions in science and technology.”

Students will be presenting their report and evaluation of the expedition at the Christmas Orchid Show at the Writhlington which takes place on December 13th from 10am until 4pm.

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