An experience for life

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Middle School seventh-graders examine a cross section of the human body at the Bodies exhibit in downtown Seattle Thursday. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Middle School seventh-graders examine a cross section of the human body at the Bodies exhibit in downtown Seattle Thursday.
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Mercer Island seventh-graders explore ‘Bodies’ exhibit

By Sadie Craig
Mercer Island Reporter

The darkened rooms of BODIES... The Exhibition pose plenty of opportunity for inappropriate comments and giggles, but the seventh-graders visiting from Islander Middle School stick mostly to the task at hand: learning about anatomy by looking at the real deal.

The exhibit displays entire human bodies with the skin removed, and also hundreds of individual organs. Cadavers cast in dramatic lighting are caught in action; one is shooting a basketball.

Student reactions range from disgusted comments to moments of understanding, like when one student sees a brain damaged by a stroke. “A stroke? That’s what happened to my grandma,” he said.

One very dark room features blood vessels of all the major organs lit up in red and blue, appearing to glow. Some of the more straightforward displays juxtapose healthy and unhealthy organs to illustrate the effects of cancer or cirrhosis or other destruction, needing little lighting for dramatic effect.

Some students, after viewing a set of lungs damaged by smoking, are certain they will never smoke.

“No. You kidding? This is gross,” said Sophia Gage. “Disgusting to see what it does to you.”

Some displays have outer layers of muscles peeled back to show inner structures. Others show the body cut in half, or cross-sections of organs.

“I think it’s really cool,” student Helen Hansen said of the exhibit. “It teaches you a lot, but it kind of gives me the chills.”

Planing for the field trip

Most Islander Middle School seventh-graders attended The Bodies Exhibit for a field trip last Thursday. The trip, funded by enrichment grants from the Mercer Island Schools Foundation, was designed to prepare students for the anatomy section of their curriculum in April. Teachers and parents said they hoped it would make anatomy a more memorable subject.

The field trip was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but school was canceled that day due to weather. Students instead went Feb. 15. Before scheduling the field trip, teachers and administrators surveyed parents of seventh-graders to see whether they’d allow the students to attend the exhibit, which is comprised of bodies from China donated to science after people with no known next of kin died.

According to IMS science teachers, parents overwhelmingly supported the idea. Many parents chaperoned the some 300 students who went last week. Entry costs for the exhibit are $18 for children ages 4-12 and $26.50 for adults.

Students received packets with specific, detailed questions they were to answer as they went through. Many were, at times, more concerned about getting the packets complete than experiencing the exhibit. Science teacher Cheryl McClure said she would shorten the packet if the school had another chance to repeat the field trip.

The packets were provided by administrators of the exhibit, which includes 21 whole-body specimens, along with more than 250 additional organ and body parts.

Student reactions

The exhibit certainly captured students’ interest, sometimes in surprising places.

Some students were particularly intrigued by the section showing fetuses and birth defects, and a type of tumor that causes growths with hair and teeth.

Others wondered how to prevent the clogged arteries they saw.

“What happens if you do exercise, what does it do?”

Early in the exhibit, a girl looking at a skinless hand noted the similarity between the one on display and her own.

“It’s kind of disgusting, because that’s like what ours look like,” she said.

Others, looking at all the nerves in the body, some of which were attached to a set of eyeballs, found things creepy.

“Can’t they get rid of the eyes? I hate the eyes. The eyes are scaring me.”

A boy looking at the nerves said “It looks like an alien to me.”

Even strolling through a room detailing human reproduction, the students were surprisingly mature in their reactions.

McClure said teachers spent time before the trip discussing with students the level of detail they could expect, as the cadavers included genitalia.

“We really went through expectations,” she said. “We also made sure we were very blunt at the beginning... so we had a chance to get the giggles out.”

So, after the trip, when one student asked, “Why keep those obscene body parts on the people?” McClure answered: “Well, you know, the body’s the body. This exhibit was, ‘This is the body, all parts of the body, every part.’ That’s why we went over it beforehand.”

She said overall she was pleased with how the students behaved.

One parent accompanying the students said she was thrilled to see students enjoy this opportunity.

“I’m a registered nurse, so I love this,” says Kathy Breene. “Because, like right now we’re showing the damage from smoking. The difference between clean lungs and sick lungs, and then later we’ll see the liver.”

After seeing the exhibit, the students’ most common reaction was: “It was pretty cool.”

Another common refrain? “How do they expect us to eat after this?”

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