SAN RAMON -- Students who want to work in medical careers no longer have to wait for college to get a hands-on feel for the medical profession.
California High School in San Ramon offers an innovative biomedical sciences program that gives students practical experiences and knowledge about medical careers. Pleasanton's Foothill High School will offer the same program next school year.
"We're trying to allow kids to follow their passion in high school," Cal High teacher Dina Anderson said. "We have some kids who take it so seriously, they think they're in medical school. We have a lot of students who are the average kids who want to be exposed to something relevant. They want to figure out what career they want."
The biomedical sciences program was created by the national group Project Lead the Way, which develops programs with rigorous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula. This is the third year Cal High has offered the biomedical program. Foothill is adding it because the demand for science and math has skyrocketed as students try to develop an edge for college admissions, Principal John Dwyer said.
"We are looking for ways to offer STEM opportunities for the kids," Dwyer said. "We're hearing from colleges and employers that that's a big area of demand. We want to make sure that our course offerings and classes really reflect the trends in employment and education."
The biomedical sciences program features four classes -- principles of biomedical sciences, human body systems, medical interventions and biomedical innovations. Students are encouraged to take all four in order, but they can enroll in any class that interests them. Cal High offers an internship class, called iQuest, in lieu of the biomedical innovations class. Foothill will offer the first biomedical class this fall, rolling out subsequent classes one per year until all four are offered.
Courses offered through Project Lead the Way are practical in that students get more hands-on learning, frequent guest speakers and relevant field trips. Anderson's students recently watched a gastric bypass surgery and will soon visit Diablo Valley College to work alongside community college students on human cadavers.
"Because the job market is changing, we need to be hands-on with the way students are learning," Cal High Assistant Principal Dayna Taylor said. "Everything is project-based. If students do something with their hands and are in the middle of it, they absorb everything. They learn."
Students are exposed to at least two dozen medical careers in each class, Anderson said.
"We go through the qualifications for each job, the schooling required, the personality needed, what the daily life is like for that profession," she said. "They get to evaluate if they can handle doing a dissection or if they're better in a lab. They get to find their specialty, what they're good at and what they're interested in."
Project Lead the Way's hands-on approach to meaningful education with a focus on careers is how all high school classes should be taught, Anderson said.
"Most schools are so standards-based that that's been the focus," she said. "Finally, the pendulum has swung back to 'Wow, these kids actually need to perform and get a job.' "
"It brings kids to the college level with great knowledge," Dwyer said of the program. "Kids who are involved in these kinds of programs tend to have higher graduation rates from college than do kids who were not involved."
"I'm really excited about it," he added. "It meets kids' needs. It's a series of courses that has really good hands-on activities. The practical aspect of it is really intriguing."