By Jennifer Wohlleb
As the focus on college and career readiness continues to take hold in Kentucky, Paris Independent school leaders have found another path on that road for their students to take.
In only its second year, the district’s Academy of Health Sciences has nearly doubled the number of students enrolled, from 21 to 38. It is one of only nine career academies in the Commonwealth through the National Academy Foundation, and the first one in health sciences (see chart). Glasgow High School’s Academy of Health Sciences program began this fall.
PHOTO: As part of the summer health careers camp, Paris Independent juniors Desiree Crooks and Kennedy Brown dissected a cow’s heart with the guidance of Sarah Hughes, assistant director of the North Central Kentucky Area Health Education Center. Brown is a second-year student in the district’s Academy of Health Sciences while Crooks is in her first.
“The way it’s set up, they will take classroom classes in their freshman and sophomore years, and in their junior year when they turn 16 they will actually start taking classes at Maysville Community College,” said Amy Majewski, a registered nurse who teaches the classes at the high school. “When they leave us, they may have a semester of college completed. When they turn 16 they can enroll in the EMT classes and phlebotomy classes.”
In their senior year, students in the program also participate in health care-related internships in the community.
“For instance, after taking classes their freshman and sophomore years, in their junior year they may take the nursing assistant class at the community college and their senior year they will actually go work at the nursing home or hospital as a nursing assistant,” she said. “They would do it for pay and they would finish whatever classes they need as seniors. They would have those job skills and those soft skills and would be establishing the start of their careers, as 17-18-year-old students.”
Freshman Isabella Deaton is excited about acquiring those skills. She attended the district’s weeklong health careers camp this summer before enrolling in the program this fall to get a start on becoming a nurse practitioner.
“By the time you graduate you’re going to have an early form of a nursing degree,” she said.
Clay Goode, Paris Independent’s chief academic officer, said the district decided to create this academy for several reasons.
“The health field is growing at a tremendous rate. It’s one of the few areas of our economy that is thriving and expanding right now,” he said. “We’ve known for some time (area health care employers) have been looking for graduates in certain areas of the health field and have a difficult time in finding future employees. So we felt that it was a program of need and one of the best directions we could point students, not only right now but down the road as well.”
Paris Independent school board member Sharon Fields said she is excited about the doors this opens for students.
“The medical field is very wide open with all kinds of directions they can go in, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiologists, whatever, it’s there for them,” she said. “And I think this is a good head start for kids to begin thinking about a possible medical career.”
Majewski said health sciences have been easy to integrate across the curriculum.
“We do a lot of collaborating with the different areas,” she said. “So if a student is taking geometry, we can apply it to the medical topics we’re talking about, or chemistry or English. We talked about the bubonic plague and they were talking about that in history class. It has really made the students realize, ‘Hey, there’s more than just assignments. This actually goes across the gamut of things.’ So that’s what’s really neat about it because they get hands-on experience and the knowledge blends together.”
Getting the program off the ground has been a group effort, Goode said.
“Thanks to a great advisory board from the local community we received not only equipment and supplies for the academy, but they also supplied a lot of expertise,” he said. “They know what they are looking for in their future employees. A lot of that is technical expertise and what exactly students need to know to prepare them for higher education in the health field and, obviously, eventual employment.”
In addition to the local hospital and nursing home providing spots for interns, they have made time for the students, he said.
“They’ve also been great at coming in as guest speakers, doing mock interviews, they’ve allowed us to make visits to their sites,” Goode said. “Those partnerships are really, really key.”
He said community partners also have stepped up financially.
“Maysville Community College is giving us a wonderful price per credit hour and we are funding those opportunities for our students,” Goode said. “We do it on priority need first – students who are free and reduced lunch – but we are making sure no student is denied the opportunity to take a dual-credit course because of the cost … some of our community leaders have stepped up and started contributing to funds to help students pay for dual-credit opportunities.”
And while patient care is at the core of much of the academy’s curriculum, that is not the only career path it has opened for students.
“We had a couple of kids this past year who realized by going through the program that they didn’t necessarily want to do anything in patient care, but they realized other great areas of opportunity in the health field,” Goode said. “For example, Bourbon Community Hospital, as they explained, needs medical insurance billing, accountants, attorneys. So students have really seen that the health field goes far beyond patient care and there are employment opportunities that they can pursue in the health field.”
Freshman Elizabeth Preston, who is interested in anesthesiology and forensic pathology, is one of those students who wants experience in this area before deciding what path to pursue, and also attended the weeklong health careers summer camp.
“This will give me some experience before I decide if this is what I really want,” she said.
Majewski said in the academy’s first year there was very little turnover, with two students graduating and two deciding the program wasn’t for them.
“College and career readiness is a big thing,” she said. “College readiness is one thing, but career readiness is another, and one program that does both? To me, that’s a win-win.”
– Click here for more information about the National Academy Foundation.