Making Health Science History at TC

The 7 pathways that can be followed by a student in the Health Science Academy.

By Kristy Kocot and Tillie Davies

Beginning in the Fall of 2018, T.C. Williams students will have the opportunity to be a part of the newly developed Health Sciences Academy (HSA). For the first time, the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GW SMHS) is collaborating through a public-private venture with T.C. by giving high school students a chance to begin their college education in 9th grade.

Dr. Linda Zanin, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at GW SMHS, has collaborated with Laura Evans, a health science teacher at T.C., and Micki Coffman, the Career and Technical Education Specialist at T.C., to create this partnership. They began working on this program in September of 2016.

T.C. already has a very successful Health Sciences program with the classes it offers, including DE Medical Terminology, DE Surgical Technologist, and Intro to Health and Medical Sciences. GW SMHS and T.C. had originally only planned to have one class together, but then changed their minds when they saw all of the opportunities that could come out of the collaboration, which then became the HSA. After looking at the projected workforce needs of the future, it became clear that this program was necessary.

Employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow 18% nationally in the next 10 years, much faster than average for all occupations, which is 2.4 million new jobs. The Northern Virginia region is projected to grow 30% locally (nearly 40,000 more jobs), according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. “This is a huge area of growth, and what better way to get students involved,” said Zanin, “the majority of the health sciences are in tremendous demand.”

T.C. teachers in the HSA will need to qualify to become GW instructors, and every student in the academy will be generating a GW SMHS college transcript.  “These courses will be taught by high school instructors, who also hold a adjunct faculty appointment at GW,” said Zanin, “starting in their freshman year, these students are enrolled in college courses, and we actually consider the students in the Academy [to be] GW students.”

HSA is going to provide students with seven different pathways that they can pursue while they’re at T.C. Williams. These pathways include surgical, nursing, biomedical informatics, sports medicine, emergency medical services, pharmacy, and medical laboratory sciences.

The HSA is a valuable opportunity for students who have an interest in the healthcare field. At the end of this program, they can graduate with an industry certification and go directly to work, go to community college and get an associate’s degree, or go to a university.

Starting at Minnie Howard, every freshman enrolled in the program will take an Intro to Health and Medical Sciences class. This course will be required of all students in the program in order to introduce them to the pathway options that will follow. “We are going to be building these programs over the next few years, but we are still going to be offering all of our classes that we are currently offering,” said Evans.

The college credits that students will earn in the health and science field are beneficial to many types of careers. The HSA will not limit a student’s options for their future occupation. “The students who graduate from this academy will be at a variety of different levels of education and interest,” said Zanin.

The courses that come after freshman year depend on the pathway a student decides to follow. This specific pathway will be chosen in the student’s junior year. If a student wishes to exit the program at any time, this can be done easily, with the credits earned in the program transferred as regular elective credits.

After graduating from T.C. and maintaining a 2.75 Grade Point Average for four years within the HSA, students are guaranteed admission to GW or can apply to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to pursue an associate’s degree. They can also bring their transcript with the earned college credits to another school. If these options do not appeal to students, an HSA graduate is capable of entering the workforce immediately after high school.

“By earning GW credits through the Academy of Health Sciences, students can jumpstart their future education and earn college credits, gain exposure to college material in a familiar environment, build confidence by experiencing college level course work, and receive credits from a top ranked university which makes them a far more competitive applicant when applying to college,” said Zanin.

Because of the guaranteed admission to GW through this program, the HSA students will not have to experience the stressful and costly hassle of applying to college. “By completing these courses for high school and demonstrating academic success [in HSA], you’re already demonstrating success [needed for college],” said Zanin.

While students take college courses throughout high school, they earn free college credits through the the HSA, which is also a cost-free program. “[This] partnership guarantees a different price structure, it is ⅓ of the college tuition at GW,” said Zanin. GW has also already committed $100,000 in scholarships for students who will be attending their university after graduating from the HSA.

Applications for the program are available for 8th graders in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS). The application process is completely online and consists of three generic personal essays and three teacher recommendations. An applicant must have an overall GPA of at least 2.5 during middle school years to be eligible for HSA.

The application deadline is April 1, then applications will be reviewed by the HSA committee. The program is accepting a maximum of 150 students.

The accepted students will have to participate in a mandatory Summer Bridge Program, where they will enroll at GW. This is a college readiness program to prepare the upcoming HSA participants for college level courses. Throughout the Summer Bridge Program, students will get information on the HSA and the different pathways they can choose from. It will be held for 2 weeks, from July 9 to July 20, at the George Washington University Alexandria Center.

“This is GW’s intellectual investment in this school, in these students, and in these healthcare pathways,” said Zanin, “healthcare is not just one or two professions, there are hundreds of healthcare professions and we hope that this academy will launch students into many of those different fields.” Everyone involved in the creation and implication of the HSA is eager to see the program start to provide T.C. students with this opportunity, and study its effects on the healthcare field over the next decade.