Donning shirts that read, “We Are All Made Up Of All Of Us,” a group of seventh graders at the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) recently learned about their ancestry and their connection and similarities with others around the world, thanks to DNA test results that helped students find their biological roots.
On May 14, CSKYWLA became the first school in the United States to be tested by the popular consumer genealogy DNA service, Living DNA, and the Atlanta-based AKESOgen Labs “DNA Learn” project. The tests were carried out as part of “DNA Learn,” a global educational project, in which girls’ DNA were sampled to provide students with a one-on-one analysis of their ancestry and to tackle the misconceptions around race.
The activity was part of CSKYWLA’s project-based learning project, “Finding Your Roots,” where students learned about genetics, including mitochondrial DNA, genotypes and phenotypes.
Students like Amariah Caudle were surprised by the results. She learned that most of her DNA is derived from African countries.
“I learned that complexion doesn’t matter,” Amariah said. “A person can be light-skinned and come from African countries, or you can be darker complexioned and come from European countries. Over time, people branch out, and that makes us more diverse.”
Victoria Johnson’s test results revealed her DNA derived mostly from Africa, but she was still surprised to learn that her heritage is 7.5 percent European.
“We may seem like we’re from one country, but we’re very diverse,” she said.
Laura Pena, STEM specialist at CSKYWLA, said the project was designed to bring learning to life. To assist with their learning, students read the novel, “The Skin I’m In” in language arts, studied genetics in science, and learned probability in math and geography in social studies.
“To see students’ faces and their ability to apply what they learned and discover where their family is from is an experience they’ll never forget,” Pena said. “I hope students feel empowered and understand that there are some people who will judge you based on what you look like, but to also know that we do have more things in common than we have different. We’re from all over the world. My goal was for them to explore that and find their roots.”
Diahan Southard, community outreach consultant at Living DNA, said the goal of the project is to show people how they are similar to one another and that we are all connected.
“I think the number one response I’ve seen is surprise,” Southard said. “I think everybody feels like they know who they are and they feel like they understand their origins and they’re happy with that, but when you give students a story that their DNA is telling them, it’s a reminder that they don’t know their whole story.”
“This means there’s more to learn and students can have an open mind and begin to see their classmates in a different way,” she added.