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Tamaqua science students perform addiction experiment with flatworms

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    Fifth-grade Tamaqua Elementary School students collaborated during the planarian experiment last week. From left, Autumn Swartz, Mason Derr, Jacob Wilmont, Nathaniel Sotomayor and Kali Hill. For a video, go to JUSTIN CARLUCCI/TIMES NEWS

Published May 09. 2019 12:07PM

It might not be easy to teach today’s youth about addiction.

However, last week, the Tamaqua Elementary School started the “Planarian Party” experiment. With the use of planarians, a type of flatworm, students were able to understand firsthand how addiction works.

“This program on the planarian substance abuse was funded in part by Temple University,” said Melissa Scheetz, fifth-grade science teacher. “We’re working with Temple to show students how addictions of all kinds, running from sugar, all the way to alcohol, can affect your body negatively as you build up resistance to those certain kinds of substances.”

Planarians and jars of water filled Scheetz’s fifth-grade classroom as the students eagerly dove into the experiments. The students used sugar as the form of substance to see how the worms reacted.

“They seem to understand and are making the connection of how the planarians are in their natural environment,” Scheetz said. “We observed how they were naturally if we saw them out in nature last week. Then we were comparing it to how it would be if we placed them into those substances, the difference in their bodies. We then put them back into the water to let them recover, and shorten the period of time in between to show them that they would be building up an immunity to those substances, and their bodies would become addicted.”

The Planarian Party was founded by Dr. Scott Rawls of Temple University. Scheetz’s students captured and recorded their results so Rawls and his research team have more data to analyze. The project is typically for schools in the Philadelphia area, but an exception was made for Tamaqua to participate, thanks to former Tamaqua graduate Allison Amodea.

“We had a nice young lady over at Tamaqua who is working with Dr. Rawls down at Temple,” Scheetz said of Amodea. “They invited us to do this planarian study, or what they call the Planarian Party. Over the course of the next week, our students will be giving our planarians some different substance abuse and cause them to have an addiction; to show them what it would be like if they were taking that themselves. It’s kind of in lieu of the D.A.R.E. program that we don’t have anymore. It’s kind of in that same vein; they’re going to understand how things affect them if they take it over time.”

Based on the excitement and results, it likely won’t be the last year that Scheetz and her students participate in the experiment.

“This is the first year that we’re doing the planarian study,” she said. “This is the first day, and the kids seem to really be enjoying it.”

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