Floyd T. Binns principal Nate Bopp was kidnapped Tuesday.
No need to worry, as a group of students from Rhonda Bollum’s gifted class solved the crime.
The forensic exercise is part of a program devised by Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office deputy Dana Martz, who works with Bollum’s gifted students to teach them how detectives solve crimes and then asks them to use their problem solving skills to solve one of their own.
Entering its fourth year of existence, Martz’s presentation takes a prominent figure at the school – in this case Bopp – and puts them in a crime scene.
On Tuesday, Bopp’s office was shuttered with police tape and inside were evidence markers – pointing out areas that the students would have to catalog and then analyze while conducting interviews with witnesses and potential suspects.
Martz said that allowing students an opportunity to have a hands on experience teaches them more than if she was to lecture them about what a detective does.
“I enjoy it,” Martz said. “They are at the age where they are trying to figure out what they want to be. This kind of shows them what the profession is all about, that it’s not as easy or fast as you see in on TV. It puts in perspective.”
Inside Bopp’s office were five sets of evidence – a tennis racket, a size 10 New Balance shoe, a blue Eastern View Cyclones mug, a book from the Floyd T. Binns library and a pack of breath mints.
The first group on the scene – Jack Kerns, Keira Harrison, Mikayla Stanley and Brett Clatterbaugh – excitedly wrote down where the evidence was located, took pictures of the items and let their imagination run wild.
“Breath mints,” Clatterbaugh yelled out, “they must have bad breath.”
“A stinky shoe,” Kerns said, as he bounced across the room.
Bollum smiled as her class trekked through the school, visiting six different teachers or staff members to find out “who done it.”
“The real life application, I can’t show them that in a movie or on YouTube,” Bollum said. “They are experiencing it first hand. Plus it makes a connection with her (Martz) with them. They know her face, they trust her. She’s not just there for crime, she’s there to help learn in an educational setting.”
Each student had a role – a note taker, a photographer, a interviewer and a timekeeper.
Harrison hammed it up as the interviewer, going off script to grill her suspects. Librarian Virginia Garton insisted she just liked to read her books and drink her hot tea. The keen-eyed sleuths spied a shoebox in her room and asked to inspect it, hoping to find the match to the New Balance left behind in Mr. Bopp’s office.
It wasn’t there.
Garton laughed as Kerns yelled over his shoulder, “I’ll be watching you.”
The group made their way through the hallways, ending up in Danielle Driggers’ classroom. Driggers said she liked to play tennis, she did have a blue mug with an EV logo on it (but lost it) and she stayed late at the school.
Mr. Bopp was last seen at 5:30 p.m., and the students began to put two and two together.
“It was really fun,” Kerns said. “I learned how to be nice and interrogate people.”
Harrison smiled when it was pointed out how well she questioned the teachers.
“I learned how to interrogate people well and how to analyze things,” Keira Harrison said.
So, through their analyzation, who was the culprit?
Mrs. Driggers, the class yelled in unison.
“When I do the problem based learning, they all have enthusiasm,” Bollum said. “They’re bringing their level of cognitive thinking to a higher level. They can think together as a group. Teamwork is very important.”
This is the fourth year they’ve done the program, and each year there’s something new introduced. This year, Clatterbaugh was the first student ever to videotape the interviews on his phone and then play them back once they returned to the classroom.
That impressed Martz and Bollum.
“Maybe our writers might not catch everything that was said, so we can go back get the data,” Clatterbaugh said of his reasons behind taping the proceedings.
Bollum said that by being hands on, the information is more easily retained.
“I’ve had my older students come back to me and ask if we still do this exercise,” Bollum said.
It was an experience the class wouldn’t soon forget.
“It was really fun,” Kerns said.
Bollum and Martz presented the same curriculum at Culpeper Middle School a few weeks earlier as well.