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Young ‘disease detectives’ share diagnoses with an expert

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Cathy Dobson

Can you say kwashiorkor?

Do you know what it means?

Elementary students Will Webster and William Nikel figured it out at a recent enrichment day called Disease Detectives.

The boys and 18 others from the Lambton Kent District School Board were at Lakeroad School, where most enrichment activities take place.

They were presented with 20 medical case studies and asked to accurately diagnose each one.

Will and William worked as a team and came up with their answer almost by accident.

“We were doing research on Google and tapped a search result by mistake,” admitted William, a Grade 6 student at Bright’s Grove School.

Their case study involved a five-year-old experiencing famine in Sub-Saharan Africa. The boy ate little other than cassava. His black hair had turned a rust colour and his belly was swollen.

Will and William suggested the boy had kwashiorkor, a severe case of malnutrition caused by a lack of protein.

“Exactly right,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Hospital in Toronto who joined the class remotely to discuss the diagnoses.

“You must have had a lot of fun today,” Chakrabarti said.

And he would know.

Dr. Chakrabarti grew up in Sarnia and was an enrichment student at Errol Road School in the late 1980s.

“I’m happy to help you guys,” he said. “I see gross stuff every single day. A lot of the stuff is like what you see on the TV show House. It’s very, very cool.”

Grade 8 students Ben Hollingsworth and Peter Knapp were also at the enrichment day and listened to Dr. Chakrabarti’s opinion about each case.

“It’s harder than you think to do the research,” said Peter, who attends Confederation Central. “There’s a lot of different health websites and they’re not all good.”

He might consider a medical career but might also become a chemical engineer, he said.

“No matter what, this is a lot better than sitting in the classroom.”

All Grade 4 students in Lambton Kent complete an abilities test to determine if they are gifted and can participate in enrichment opportunities, the core program or classroom enrichment.

Carolyn Bus, one of two elementary enrichment teachers with the board, said enrichment provides access to like-minded peers and makes school more engaging.

“These students have different socio-emotional needs and it’s great for them to be with each other,” she said.  “It also allows them to feel like what they are learning matters.”

She and teacher Sheila Ward conceive and organize a series of enrichment days each year for approximately 130 students. Current activities range from robotics to blogging and cooking to geocaching.

Upcoming enrichment events include a pay-it-forward day to teach the benefits of contributing to the community and a field trip to the Lorne Henderson Conservation Area.

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