A person’s genetic make-up is playing an increasingly important role in medicine through diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. For the benefits of these technologies to be maximally realized it is crucial to engage the public in an effort to give people the opportunity to consider the benefits and complexities. Through this engagement, confident and informed decision making about genetics becomes possible.
The current revolution in genomics is transforming healthcare. Engaging diverse communities is a key step towards unlocking the opportunities for improving human health. The Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd) at Harvard Medical School informs the public about the benefits that can come from knowing one’s genome as well as the related ethical, legal, and social implications. Building Awareness, Respect, and Confidence through Genetics (ARC) is a proposal from pgEd in partnership with Sanford Research that aims to shorten the timeline for breakthroughs in science to make their way into the classroom. The over-arching goal is to empower teachers across all disciplines to stimulate dialogue about cutting-edge scientific and social developments in personal genetics within high schools and the broader community. This will lead to increased genomic literacy and increased awareness, respect, interest and confidence via discussion about the opportunities and societal implications of genomic technologies. First, ARC will build an inquiry-based, innovative, and transdisciplinary curriculum focusing on genetics, identity, and respect for diversity. An expanded curriculum will include materials that cross academic borders and reflect the newest and most compelling research. Topics will include: 1) sex and gender 2) race and ancestry 3) intelligence and behavior 4) gene-editing and genome modification 5) de-extinction and genetic modification of animals 6) space exploration and genetics. These Common Core and NGSS-aligned teaching tools will transform classroom discussions, promote critical-thinking, and illustrate that a career in science can be research or medicine, but also law, education, history or bioethics. Second, ARC creates professional development trainings to seed dissemination of our curriculum, initially in urban Massachusetts (MA) and rural South Dakota (SD) communities. With an emphasis on training teachers from underserved communities, we seek to provide high quality, impactful trainings that encourage collaborative and cross-curricular teaching. By training 250 teachers, we anticipate the impacts will trickle down to students, schools, and the broader community, advancing our goals of an engaged and informed populace ready to explore the benefits and implications of personal genetics.