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HMSA: Three Years Old and Going Strong

By Selena Shifflett and Keely Wiese – Tuesday, October 28, 2014

 
In 2011, Ms. Dudley, a science teacher at Monticello, had an idea; she wanted to change the way classes were taught in high schools.

In 2012, the Health and Medical Sciences Academy of Monticello High School welcomed their first group of students.In 2014, 42 freshmen started their four year-long journey in HMSA. Now, there are 89 HMSA students total and they’ve all had a unique experience in the Academy.

The Hoofprint caught up with the HMSA students, ranging from ninth to eleventh grade, and the teachers behind it all. HMSA is made up of students with an interest in pursuing a career in medicine. Some students value the internship program, while others love the community.

Ms. Dudley, Director of the Health and Medical Sciences Academy, explained what train of thought inspired the Academy.

“My idea was not an Academy. I just really wanted to look at how we teach kids in high school.”

Ms. Dudley attended a presentation given by Dr. Canterbury in 2011 where he talked about integrating curriculum into high schools. He thought that similar classes could be combined, such as Health and Science. This method would help students see the connection between two classes that used to be separate and individual.

Based on this idea, Ms. Dudley and Mr. Dove, Science Department Chair, and a committee of teachers from every department in the school along with medical doctors, formed a curriculum devoted to planning the Academy. Now, first year HMSA students (the freshmen of the Academy) take one class in place of a science class that integrates the Health 9 curriculum, Honors Biology, and Principles of Biomedicine.

Originally when mapping out the curriculum, Ms. Dudley and Mr. Dove included almost every class in the Academy. This meant that essentially every class in their four years of high school would relate to health and medicine. This plan was only a rough draft, and it was never actually imposed on any HMSA students, but for a while this curriculum was a serious consideration.

For instance, HMSA students would take Latin for understanding medical terminology, History as it relates to the advances in medicine, and English focusing on medically themed books. One block of Art class would be dedicated solely to HMSA students, and they would take other electives as they pertained to the health and sciences like Sports Medicine.

Immediately, teachers and doctors alike displayed some resistance to this plan. They argued that this would make the Academy too exclusive and the students too isolated. The students would miss the cultural aspect of literature and history. Several doctors on the Committee told Ms. Dudley that learning Spanish would be just as helpful in the medical world, if not more so, than studying Latin because of the immense number of Spanish-speaking patients in the U.S.

There were many flaws with the rough draft of HMSA. For one, it would have restricted the students’ schedules. For obvious reasons, parents of the current students in the Academy want their kids to be a part of more groups at MoHS than just HMSA. Many parents came to Ms. Dudley and said, “we want to make sure they’re in HMSA, but we also want to make sure they’re in the bigger part of the school.”

With more time and energy, Ms. Dudley and Mr. Dove worked out the kinks and set up the curriculum. By 2012, the new Academy was ready to introduce their first students — a mixture of girls and boys from all over Albemarle county. 28 students in all made up the first ever cohort of students. Now, those that remain from that first group are in their third year of HMSA, and are appropriately named “third years,” by the Academy members. Likewise, the new freshmen are called “first years” and the current sophomores are “second years.”

There is less of a differentiation between the grades at the Academy according to the rest of the student body at Monticello. To everyone else in the school, those enrolled in the Academy are collectively called “the HMSA kids” if mentioned at all. The Academy is well-known in that nearly everyone in the school knows about it, though who exactly makes up each class is less obvious to the rest of MoHS.

The Academy affects its members in ways other than purely academic challenges. This year, the third years spend lots of time before and after school interning.  When asked, many of these students, now juniors, agreed that the community and internships are their favorite part of being in HMSA.

For the first two years of the Academy the students are required to complete 20 hours of community service a year. The juniors participate in an internship that ties in with what they hope to pursue as a career. Some volunteer at elementary schools to gain experience with working with children, while others intern with nurses, doctors, and surgeons.

“The most exciting part, for me, is the internships because some of them are very cool experiences,” said Ms. Dudley. “As we started this Academy, my biggest fear was that we wouldn’t get genuine internships for our students and that’s unfolding very nicely this year and it gives me excitement for future years as well.”

The sophomores today, or second years in HMSA lingo, have different opinions on the Academy, but most agree that they enjoy the experience. They are having fun learning things in class that wouldn’t be taught in a normal classroom. They also like the preparation that they are receiving for future careers and settings. For example, first year members of the Academy are CPR and First Aid certified in class. This is usually not offered in a standard Biology class and it prepares these students in case they are ever in an emergency situation.

“The classes are more difficult, so the Academy helps you prepare for college,” said Kelly Graff (‘17), an aspiring veterinarian.

Other students, like Emma Wood (‘17), love the labs in class, though the workload is heavy.

Despite these positive reports, some students have dropped out of the Academy in each year due to various personal concerns. The teachers involved in the Academy understand; most high school students, let alone HMSA students, don’t even have a vague idea of what they want to do yet, and if they decide that HMSA isn’t for them, then they are free to leave the Academy at any time.

This year, 42 freshmen started their first year in the Academy. They have heard great reviews about the HMSA, and are eager to head-start their hopeful careers in the health and medicines.

Besides the internships for the 11th graders, HMSA has made some other positive changes. Ms. Dudley now drafts all of the HMSA members for Mustang Morning every Friday, as opposed to Thursday, in order to stay out of the way of Honor Society meetings. They spend this time listening to guest speakers, covering their health unit, and getting to know each other.

Another new change is the addition of “families” within the HMSA community. Students from all three classes were split into families this year, consisting of a few students from each grade level. Once a month they talk with their family while enjoying Bodo’s bagels.

Piper Goodman (‘18) loves Biology class in its own right. “I really like having this HMSA period first block every morning because it gets me excited for school, gets me ready, and wakes me up every morning.”

Though HMSA continues to grow and evolve from year to year, overall being a part of the Health and Medical Sciences Academy seems to be a positive experience. Students from every grade love the tight-knit community aspect of the Academy because they know that there are teachers and students to help them whenever. With more students in HMSA than ever, there’s a constant stream of new friends and new talent coming through.

That is why all of the current students are excited to meet the next cohort of students joining in the 2015-2016 school year. It will be the first year where there are HMSA students in every grade level, and it will be the current third years’ last year in the Academy and in Monticello.

The teachers are very excited about the future of the HMSA. They love the way the classroom works, and hope that, in the coming years, the other departments may start to integrate curriculum and try using this teaching style.

Mr. Dove gave some insight into why the Academy works so well. Just offering a ‘specialty experience’ isn’t enough; it all comes down to the people.

“I can change things up all I want, but if the passion doesn’t exist in the students, then you have a moot point,” said Mr. Dove. “Or you can have a dynamic curriculum next to energized students, and together, that is a powerful experience.”

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