During December 2020, 5th grade Social Studies students enthusiastically welcomed a guest speaker, DeAnne Olsen Cravaritis, mother of 5th grader Nico. Middle School Social Studies teacher and Dean of Middle School Academics Jim James invited Dr. Cravaritis to class to discuss pandemics during history in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a teacher, I love to provide opportunities for guest speakers to share their knowledge with the students. We have spent time in class discussing the spread of disease in the new world; having Dr. Cravaritis provide a broader context was quite helpful, ” commented Mr. James. Dr. Cravaritis was "delighted and honored" to be asked to join Mr. James' class, having known many of the children for years.
Dr. Cravaritis prepared a Google Slides presentation entitled, "Microorganisms in History: How Science and Technology (or the lack of it) have Affected People for Thousands of Years." Students were introduced to types and relative sizes of different microorganisms, as well as the concept that microorganisms perform beneficial functions in addition to causing disease. Dr. Cravaritis elucidated a variety of terms common during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the difference between a virus name and the disease the virus causes, what is a pandemic vs. an epidemic, the difference between medicines and vaccines, and explained the immune system as a type of army with many specialized roles. Students were introduced to a worldwide history of pandemics overlaid with the history of technology spanning from the Dark Ages to the recent Technological Revolution.
In December the first COVID-19 vaccines were in final review, and thus ultra-cold freezers were in the news. Dr. Cravaritis gave the students perspective on how cold an ultra-cold freezer actually is by comparing the temperatures of Absolute Zero all the way to the Sun and lightning. (The answer is that an ultra-cold freezer is colder than the South Pole in Winter, but warmer than the surface of the Moon.) Finally, Dr. Cravaritis explained how different pandemics shaped the course of history in different parts of the world at different times.
The class and Mr. James engaged Dr. Cravaritis with great questions and interesting commentary. "I loved every minute of it," said Dr. Cravaritis. "Mr. James was so gracious and generous and the kids were wonderful!"
Fifth grade students wrote thank you notes to Dr. Cravaritis, thanking her for her time and knowledge and expressing how much they enjoyed her presentation.
“I really enjoyed the classes we took with you. As you know I really want to be a doctor and learning about all of these diseases is very helpful. I really would love to learn more if that is possible,” remarked Lela. Layla and Aiden noted they really “enjoyed it when you showed us the chart of how cold vaccines need to be,” and Haniya commented, “I thought it was interesting and I learned so much. I hope you come by and visit again to teach us more.”
Dr. Cravaritis holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Vanderbilt University where she also served twice as a Master Teaching Fellow. Her undergraduate work was completed at Lawrence University, from which she holds a B.A. in Biology with an Interdisciplinary Study in Biomedical Ethics, magna cum laude in Independent Study in Biology. Dr. Cravaritis completed her post-doctoral training with National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Alan Hinnebusch at the NIH campus in Bethesda, and has been working as an analyst for the NIH's DNA database, GenBank, for the past 19 years.