The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 13, 2012

Area students get a taste of medical occupations

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — The lesson du jour was braces and splints at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic in St. Peter, and a medical professional posed this question to a group of about 25 young people in blue scrubs: If a patient has a broken bone protruding through the skin, how do you respond?

“Put it back in,” a boy offered.

“Put it back in?!” said Paula Meskan, director of nursing, with a laugh.

No, other staff answered. Do not put it back in.

But River’s Edge patients shouldn’t worry. While the young folks all looked the part of medical professionals, they were actually high school students from area districts, getting a jump on career training through the regional HIGH Step Medical Science Academy, spearheaded by St. Peter High School.

Several years ago the district began offering its first academy-based learning program for juniors and seniors. The idea was and still is to give students in-class training, but also to get them out of the classroom as much as possible for hands-on experience in numerous career fields, said St. Peter Middle/High School Principal Paul Peterson.

The medical science academy was first, and the South Central Minnesota Agricultural Science Academy and the Engineering Academy have followed. Now, dozens of students from St. Peter, Le Sueur-Henderson, St. Clair, Lake Crystal, Cleveland and Tri-City United take part, Paul said.

The students participate in the classes in 95-minute blocks. Teachers have access to buses to take them wherever need be. The agri-science students, for example, have access to the Nicollet County Fairgrounds where there’s a garden and where animals can be brought in. The medical science students recently went to Cornerstone Wellness in St. Peter for a chiropractor lesson.

Warren Peterson, engineering academy teacher, said all the academies share a common goal.

“It’s to put them on their educational career path and to be able to realize what classes they need,” he said. “It’s to get them aware and get them thinking about what they want to do.”

A growing demand

Iin this day and age, it’s important for schools to find ways to connect “21st century learning” to the classroom as well as connect the classroom to the community, which is what inspired the academies, Paul said. The district also wanted to make sure to build the academies around regional job demands, which is why they geared them toward the sciences.

Numerous community partnerships and donations have been vital to the academies’ success, Paul said. The medical academy is taught by Amanda Bell, who works for the South Central Service Cooperative, hired specifically for the purpose of teaching the academy students. Among other partners, South Central College and Gustavus Adolphus College also have provided resources.

Paul said agricultural experts and businesses have been eager to help with the agri-science program. For example, the St. Peter district has purchased 70.5 acres of land just outside of St. Peter for the academy students to oversee and help farm.

While the students will be responsible for such things as testing soil composition and even handling the finances, area ag professionals will handle the equipment and farm the land, said agri-science teacher Gena Lilienthal. Lilienthal — who grew up on a dairy farm and whose family now owns a beef and crop farm — teaches animal science, plant science and advanced agri-science.

“Agricultural education has been missing in the district for 20 years,” Paul said.

Once the idea for the academies was in place four or five years ago, it didn’t take long to get them off the ground. Paul said River’s Edge was immediately on board to offer facilities and services, including staff and a conference room during a recent visit for the bracing lesson.

The students learned that if a broken bone is protruding, they should stabilize the limb and avoid putting pressure on the affected area, said Tracy Ogilvie, emergency medical technician. Ogilvie demonstrated that taping a pillow around the limb, leaving the injury exposed, is a great makeshift way to stabilize the wound.

Head-start for students

Bell said the first year of the medical science academy is “exploratory” for students, to identify specific areas of interest. Her students get a feel for a variety of health-care careers.

“It’s a great introduction for them on how the human body works,” she said.

Their senior year they can then choose a focus of sports medicine, nursing assistant or pharmacy technician.

The goal, she said, is to have students take certification tests at the end of high school so they can go onto college or careers as certified personal trainers, pharmacy technicians or nursing assistants, she said.

In its third year, Bell said her first group of medical science academy students have graduated, and she’s heard from some who have gone onto pursue medical-related degrees in college. Inspiring students to pursue careers in health care is a great feeling, she said.

“That’s the best part,” said Bell, who has a background in sports medicine.

Warren has been busy getting the newest academy, engineering, off the ground this fall. The courses being offered are from Project Lead the Way, which is science, technology, engineering and math curriculum for middle and high school students.

Engineering curriculum begins in eighth grade, Warren said, and academy classes are open to freshmen. Courses include principles of engineering and engineering design and development, among others.

Students recently, for example, were working on designing a little truss, which will be tested for how much load it will hold and at what point it breaks.

In Lilienthal’s animal science class, the students were preparing for another milestone: day 20 of egg incubation. Cracks already had formed at the top of one egg, meaning baby chicks would soon be joining the blooming bird population of Lilienthal’s classroom, disrupted often by chirping from the cages lining the room.

“Today is actually the birthday party,” Lilienthal said, although unfortunately not during the morning session. “We’re not going to celebrate until they’re totally out of the shell.”

Before St. Clair junior Eva Hoisington left the class for the day, she fed her two Japanese quails, which had produced eggs — one of which was affectionately named Poachy.

The academy’s appeal for Hoisington was pretty simple, she said.

“(My family) has always had dogs. I’ve been riding horses since I was little,” she said. “Animals are just kind of my thing.”