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Don’t fall for this alibi

High school forensic experts challenge eighth-graders to solve a mystery

Photography by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Godfrey-Lee — A crime was committed at a pizza party. Thankfully, the case landed in the hands of capable detectives. 

Byron Center Christian School teacher Tom DeBlecourt rolled his supply cart into the classroom one afternoon and announced it was missing its bell and whiteboards. 

He asked his students to serve as detectives to find the thief among a group of potential suspects: students from Godfrey-Lee’s East Lee Campus, each playing a different character. 

Using their critical thinking skills in small groups, BCCS eighth-graders gathered clues and deduced potential suspects, but the East Lee students all had alibis — a reason or excuse that could omit them from committing the crime. 

Take, for example, East Lee senior Eduardo Almanza, playing the character “Augustus Rutherford,” who said he was with a teacher doing a science experiment at the time of the crime.

“If you ask (the teacher), he can vouch for me,” Eduardo told a group of BCCS students interrogating him. 

Forensic Science, For Real

The “whodunit” activity is what happens when teachers at East Lee get extra-creative when planning lessons together for their high school students. East Lee Academic Advisor Justin Noordhoek is friends with a teacher at BCCS, and the two put their heads together to come up with an activity for their students to participate in together.

Before the pizza party, East Lee Campus English teacher Sarah Byrne’s students learned about what makes a good alibi from listening to the true crime podcast, “Serial.” They then wrote their own alibi to prepare for the “Case of the Missing Whiteboard” activity at BCCS. 

“If another student or teacher can vouch for their whereabouts, it’s a good alibi,” Byrne said.

Byrne also collaborated with science teacher Eric Lehman to use the podcast as a method for teaching forensic science. In addition to learning about alibis and collecting evidence, Lehman said the podcast inspired several forensic science labs. 

“Everytime we heard a science-related thing while listening to the podcast, we did the science in class,” Lehman said. “We played memory games based on recalling people’s memories of a crime, learned about collecting fingerprints and performed DNA extraction from strawberries.”

Alibis and Red Herrings

At BCCS for the pizza party, East Lee Campus senior Ayleen Flores acted as master of ceremonies, playing the character “Ivy.” She set the scene for the eighth-grade detectives as they began working on the case to determine who took DeBlecourt’s supplies.

Ivy had a strong alibi in the case, or so the detectives thought. When asked if anyone could vouch for her, she always dodged the question.

That wasn’t the only tricky part of the case. Byrne revealed to the detectives that teachers had planted “red herrings” — a clue or piece of information meant to mislead or distract from the real clues, she said.

As they interrogated their suspects, the BCCS students also rotated through forensic lab activities. Lehman brought along some of the same experiments that the East Lee students had done, so the eighth-graders could learn something new about forensics while attempting to solve the mystery.

At one station, students collected fingerprints off of glass slides and tried to match them with examples of prints in their detective packets. 

“We are using dusting powder to recover latent fingerprints, (or) prints left behind at a crime scene on a surface you can’t take with you as evidence,” Lehman explained. 

‘I trusted her!’ 

After interviewing all of the suspects for their alibis, BCCS students brainstormed potential motives — the “why” behind someone stealing their teacher’s supplies.

Despite such rigorous detective work, at the conclusion of their mystery lunch, only a few groups had correctly guessed the culprit. Spoiler alert: it was Ivy!

“I trusted her!” a BCCS student yelled about their duplicitous host.

DeBlecourt, who played along with the students after the shocking reveal of the whodunit, said he enjoyed watching his students learn and have fun in different environments. 

“This is good for them, getting outside of their normal everyday school routine,” he said. “We appreciate the East Lee students coming out here to do this and teaching our kids something new.”

BCCS eighth-grader Norah Tilchen looks at a suspect that East Lee senior Ayleen Flores is pointing to while EL support teacher Destiney Solis observes
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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