Hampton City Schools is so far out front with qualifications to have its Health and Medical Sciences Academy transition to one of the new governor's health sciences academies that the upgrade appears to be seamless.
Hampton has had its Health and Medical Sciences Academy for two years at Bethel High School, and will start adding courses next school year to comply with the governor's academy requirements.
"We decided that we wanted to increase the rigor and add additional pathways; so that's sort of where we are today," said Jesse White, HCS career and technical education director.
The Virginia Board of Education gave final approval in April for governor's health sciences academies in three local school districts. Hampton will have its own academy housed at Bethel, while Newport News and York County will combine on academies at Bruton and Warwick high schools.
Academies will receive a $10,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Education for startup. Each academy must include classes in five health science fields including support, therapeutic and diagnostic services, health informatics and biotechnology research.
Bethel already has programming for two of the fields fully implemented and development of the biotechnology program is underway, with plans to add informatics and support services options.
The governor's academies will offer students a variety of opportunities beyond course work including internships, job shadowing, hands-on activities with practicing professionals and the option to earn professional certifications such as for certified nursing assistant and certified medical assistant.
Shortages of medical professionals, new medical career fields to fill and an aging population have made the need for trained personnel for all sorts of medical jobs a priority. One estimate is that one in four jobs on the Peninsula is in health care, White said.
"We want students in high school and middle school to start thinking about this in a very serious way," White said.
Pathing for careers is starting early, with students at Phenix PreK-8 School getting exposure to medical fields in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades in health and medical science classes.
Students have to apply as rising 9th graders to be in the medical program at Bethel and can come from any of the city's public schools. Assistant Principal Tim Cason stressed that there is something for students at every academic level.
Approximately 150 students total have participated in the program to date, and the four-year target is between 200 and 230.
"The basis for the academy was the fact that we wanted to introduce hands-on methods to kids that they would see what the medical field is about, not wait until their freshman year of college to decide I want to be a nurse or to take this path and then suction all their money into secondary education," Cason said. "We wanted to simplify it for them, give them good practical hands-on experiences."
Kathleen May, Bethel's teacher for the current health sciences academy, is a registered nurse with a master's degree in health science. She has been a nurse for 23 years, started teaching in 2000 and has been at Bethel for three years.
Her counterpart at Phenix is Dawn Gerbing, an RN who was an ob/gyn nurse at Langley Air Force Base's hospital for 30 years.
Lecture rooms at Bethel were converted into space for the academy, with a classroom area and lab with mannequins where students practice medical techniques. May said that more teachers will have to be added to teach the additional classes and as the program grows.
"Once the governor's seal was put out there, we already had the program," May said. "So it was easy for us to get approved. So now we're just going to fine-tune it and add a few more things that we didn't have."
Several students in May's class said the exposure allowed them to evaluate the different medical job possibilities.
"At first I wasn't too interested in patient interaction, I was really just interested in research," said sophomore Ashley Greenlee. "But after doing this, I really like the patient interaction. This helps me to be able to do more in the medical field.
"Because at first I had an idea of what I wanted to do. But when I got in this program, I learned more about the opportunities that are available to me that I can further my education."
Hampton City Schools' Health and Medical Sciences Academy has been approved to become a Governor's Health Sciences Academy, with additional courses to be added. Students who complete it will receive a special governor's seal on their diplomas.