By Steven Penn
Avon High School’s biomedical classes, through the program Project Lead The Way (PLTW), offer students an engaging, hands-on learning experience of the health care field.
One class in particular, biomedical innovations, recently gave AHS seniors a chance to visit IU Health West Hospital for a day of job shadowing health care professionals.
Jessica Belton teaches the class at AHS and explained how it differs from its more traditional counterparts.
“This is the fourth class in the biomedical program that we have at Avon and it’s a senior level class,” she said. “In this class, it’s more project based in the sense they’re doing research projects, designing, and innovating new technologies. So it’s a little bit different than the rest of the three courses in the program. One of the
things we did was we came to the ER, toured the ER here, and then ... I gave them a fictitious community and they had to design an ER for that community for function and flow, and then they had to present it. They literally had to make plans and a layout of the ER and how it would flow and take patients through there. I give them a problem and then they have to solve it.”
Belton said the class was split up into two days of job shadowing and divided up among different professions in the hospital.
“(The students) were divided up into different departments and they’re just watching and working with those people and really what I want them to see is what life is like in a health care setting,” she said. “They all have ideas of being a doctor or being a nurse, but they don’t necessarily know what that entails.”
Ericka Bethel, marketing, communications, and PR specialist for the hospital, helped coordinate the job shadowing and said she sent the students to different departments at random.
“It was interesting because I was asking them — and they’re all seniors and so at this point they all know where they’re going to college — and almost all of them had health fields that they had chosen,” Bethel said. “(Belton) wanted me to randomly select them ... (because) maybe they’ll love what they’re doing today or maybe one of them that thought they wanted to be a nurse, (they would find out) ‘I know I don’t want to be an ICU nurse.’ It’s just kind of getting your feet wet and getting that hands-on experience.”
In addition to the job shadowing experience, Belton said the biomedical innovations class also gets other networking opportunities.
“Another field trip that we’ll be going on, they’re doing independent projects right now, as well as this, where they have to design their own experiment,” Belton said. “They’ve been working on that for about a month. They make a paper and they make a poster ... and they’re going to take it to IUPUI in April and present it. People like the dean of science from IUPUI will be there, the CEO of Project Lead the Way, which is what these classes are, and people from (Eli) Lilly. It’s really trying to get the students out networking, talking, and letting other people see their ideas and hopefully that’ll help open a door for them.”
Belton said she’s found that students who take all four courses of the biomedical program are much more prepared when entering college.
“With this program and all these four courses, the equipment and the labs that we do, I’m finding when students are going out to their first year of college, they’re kind of bored in their science classes because they’ve already done that,” she said. “They’re ready for something more.”
She added that some students have told her they feel ahead of the class in college after taking these courses.
“They find that it has helped them and they sit in their class and a professor will ask a question and they’re the only ones that know it,” Belton said. “They’re ahead of their class, that makes me feel good.
The stuff that we do on the research side of it, they’re far ahead of other schools that don’t do this.”
From an IU West perspective, Bethel said it was nice as a community hospital to be able to partner with the local high school.
“For us, it was exciting just partnering with (Avon High School), seeing what Avon is doing. I think that’s exciting,” Bethel said. “With IU Health being partnered, the School of Medicine, we’re always about educating the future — the people who will be working here. I know several of the girls today said they were going to IU nursing.
They’ll be in our campuses somewhere during that program anyway. We loved when they came out and did the emergency room visit because they got to come up with ideas and it’s interesting when people come in from the outside and see things — especially that young. Just to think what the future of health care could be, and how innovative it could be.”
AHS senior Rachel Myers, who has been in the program each of her four years, said it’s been a good experience for her.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I like it. It’s a real hands-on sort of learning class. I actually took honors biology simultaneously with the first year instead of having to do AP bio because I liked this class so much. I feel like you get a different type of learning. It’s not a textbook learning ... I definitely thought it put me (on a good path for college).”
She said taking the courses has even helped her to realize she wanted to embark on a new career path.
“At first I thought I might want to be a pharmacist,” Myers said. “I’ve got more information on that and I see that’s not totally want I want to do. It exposes you to a lot of careers you wouldn’t necessarily hear about. You don’t hear about a lot of things that go on in a lab ... it was really cool. I feel like I have a pretty broad knowledge of things and I really loved taking these classes. I look forward to it every year.”
Myers added she’s talked to some of the other students and heard similar stories.
“I feel like a lot of girls in my classes initially wanted to be nurses, and I’ve heard them change what they were saying because they know, ‘I’m not going to be able to do the same things as a doctor does,’” she said. “It’s just really kind of specifies that out ... so you’re not getting into college spending a bunch of money on something you think you want to do and then changing your major.”
Belton said Project Lead The Way is a curriculum that focuses on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math), which has recently moved its national headquarters from Baltimore, Md., to Indianapolis.
To be qualified to teach the classes, she had to take training courses at IUPUI.
“We go to two weeks in the summer to IUPUI and it’s from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s like being in school,” Belton said. “It’s rigorous. I’ve been
trained for all four of these courses. If somebody wants to teach another one, they have to be trained.”
Belton said this is the fifth year of the biomedical program at Avon High School. In the future, she said, these types of classes may be instituted as early as elementary schools.
For more information on PLTW, visit the website at www.pltw.org.