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High School Students Get a Jump Start in Health Careers

History soon may be repeating itself at Eastern High School.

In 2000, a senior who was valedictorian of what was called the school s Health and Human Services Academy won an $80,000 scholarship to Duke University for premedical studies.

Eastern s current school body president, 17-year-old Ndaya Johnson, a senior in what has become known as the Health and Medical Sciences Academy who also hopes to take pre-med at Duke, could end up in the same position. She attributes much of her interest in the subject to the exposure she has had to the health profession in the District s only secondary school program of its kind.

She also might be one of few freshmen to enter Duke as a fully qualified emergency medical technician. Craig English, the academy s coordinator and sole instructor, expects the District s Department of Health to certify the program s EMT training component by December.

Most EMT personnel find work only after paying to take and pass an outside course that traditionally has a high dropout rate.

People pay $2,000 for a program that we get for free, says sophomore Tiyonnie Goodwin, who wants to be either a forensic examiner or a mortician.

Perhaps more important is that all of Eastern s seniors majoring in the health academy program in the past two years have graduated and gone on to college. Many are studying nursing at the University of the District of Columbia, Mr. English says. (The most recent figures available show the high school graduation rate in the District to be well under 70 percent.)

The best part [of the academy program] is you get exposed to different things. It s a real learning experience, Ndaya says, adding, I wish it could be open in more schools.

She and other students credit Mr. English for the program s success. He makes it fun and easy to learn, she says.

He treats us like adults instead of kids, says Stacey Douglas, 16, a junior who is planning to become a physician, chiropractor or physical therapist and to go on for a business degree.

HMSA is located in four rooms on a ground-floor corridor of the school on East Capitol Street Southeast. Security is tight, and doors are kept locked even the bathrooms, the keys for which are kept in a special box to guard valuable equipment that has been supplied by the District of Columbia Public Schools and a $100,000 grant from the District-based Association of American Medical Colleges.

The equipment includes two lifelike patient mannequins in a mock intensive-care unit along with empty oxygen bottles and other lifesaving tools and devices routinely employed by health and medical personnel. Another room holds two up-to-date dental chairs, but both the nurse and dental assistant training part of the program are on hold. They are expected to be introduced soon; the greatest need at present is for a qualified dental instructor.

The nursing segment was the original part of the program, which began in 1983. It was dormant for a year before Mr. English arrived. Stepped-up recruitment efforts reinvigorated the academy so that today, 50 sophomores, juniors and seniors are enrolled. Even so, Mr. English has yet to obtain authorization for a separate phone in the school and uses his own cell phone as a main contact number.

I would like to have over 200 students, he says. This is really what you need today when a baby boomer is turning 65 every 60 minutes, leaving a huge gap to be filled in the health care field. Of the top 10 careers today, five are in this field.

What happens with academy students is they have a goal. Many are interested in postsecondary education, and our goal is to help them, says Iris Wilson, a program development specialist for the DCPS Office of Career and Technical Education, under which HMSA functions as one of six academies in District high schools. Some students are more ambitious than others. Dajuan Bolden, 17, a junior, says he hopes to become a pediatrician.

Language arts also figure into the program but can be a challenge. While finishing a class assignment that involved research and a visual presentation on a large folding poster of either a community problem or a disease, a junior asked Mr. English how to spell the words inhaler and allergic. The peripatetic teacher would like to introduce the study of Latin to speed things along.

His office the main classroom, containing laptops and an interactive white board is marked by a print portrait of George Washington and a copy of the medical profession s heraldic symbol, a caduceus, painted on the wall.

I think my life is complicated, but it s nothing compared to what [the Founding Fathers] went through, says Mr. English, 35, a no-nonsense personality who happens to be a history buff. His education credits include a master s degree in biology and professional credits as a former emergency medical technician who has qualified as an EMT trainer.

EMT preparation allows for more job flexibility, he notes.

In addition to a softcover textbook about math used in health occupations, students have a thick EMT hardback text. HMSA courses basically are electives taken in addition to core subjects required for graduation, although some overlap. Course titles include introduction to clinical medicine, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology.

Senior students get plenty of hands-on experience and participation in hospital outreach programs, such as those offered by the Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University Medical Center, where some HMSA members shadow medical students.

It s a lot of fun to see the kids eyes light up when they watch open-heart surgery, says Mr. English, explaining why he became a teacher. I m building something.