HESPERIA — Carefully using droppers and tiny stir-sticks, high school students leaned over glass slides and stirred drops of synthetic blood with various serums, simulating the experience of a real medical lab test.
“If it looks like jello, it’s positive, right?” one student asked of her classmate. “Yeah, that one is AB positive,” was the response. They quickly scribbled their finding on a chart, moving on to the next “blood” sample.
About 30 Sultana High School students were working on the lab activity during each class period on Wednesday, most of them dressed the part in full scrubs.
The lesson was just one of many hands-on experiences offered to them in the school’s new on-campus medical academy, which is one of just two in the High Desert, along with Apple Valley High School.
Sultana’s new Sports Science, Physiology, Anatomy, Nursing Academy (SPAN) is a program offering the school’s Regional Occupational Program students immersive classrooms and medical labs, funded in part thanks to a “Ramp Up” grant from Victor Valley College.
It’s essentially “a school within a school,” ROP teacher James Hodkinson explained, the labs operating like “a mini hospital” while the classrooms come fully equipped with cameras and projectors ready for holding teleconferences and taking virtual field trips.
“It’s actually helping us get prepared so that we’re ready to deal with different situations,” Sultana sophomore Abigail Martinez, 15, said. “I think it’s really good experience. It’s giving us a head start for when we begin working.”
Like most of the academy students, Martinez has her sights set on pursuing a career in medicine — for her, more specifically, as a pediatrician.
“I like working with kids, and really want to be able to help people,” Martinez said.
She and her classmate, senior Dawson Irvin, both said they’ve been inspired by Hodkinson’s stories from his past working in the field as a medical assistant and a radiology technician.
“Some of the stories he has shared actually touch you — I’ve even cried a few times,” Irvin said. “What he did is exactly what I want to do, getting to affect so many people's lives.”
Irvin, 17, wants to become an Emergency Medical Technician or paramedic upon graduating. He said being a part of SPAN has provided him with valuable experience in “dealing with trauma — emotionally, mentally and physically.”
Among the lab equipment assisting this preparation are advanced microscopes to view items at up to 16,000 times their size and interactive mannequins, which students can listen to blood pressure and lung sounds on. They're also used for learning CPR. Hodkinson said every SPAN student will be officially certified to perform CPR by the end of the school year.
“When do we get to use the dummies?” Irvin asked Hodkinson during Wednesday’s lab activity. “Gotta crawl before you can run,” Hodkinson responded.
Back at their desks after the lab, Hodkinson charted out the blood test results on the white board.
“So what does all this mean?” he asked the class. “We got all these negatives and positives — but who cares?” He went on to discuss the dangers of mistaking blood types, explaining that one minor error could mean someone’s life.
“I really love those light-bulb moments — that’s the payoff for me,” Hodkinson said. “When the students really get it, you can see it on their faces. And it’s not intellectual; it’s experiential. Those are the moments I live for.”
Although Hodkinson said he never planned on going into the medical field or teaching, he said he fell in love with both when he fell into the jobs "by accident," and after four years at Sultana, he has already gone from 65 students in his first year to the academy’s full capacity of 148 this year.
“I don’t want the top 15 percent of students in my class,” Hodkinson said. “I want the other 85. I want those students that aren’t sure where they’re going ... I want to be sure they have the opportunities that I missed in high school.”
Hodkinson cited the Bureau of Labor in noting that health care is the second fastest growing career field in the U.S., showing a 19 percent increase in the next eight years.
To keep up local students’ competition “in this global economy,” Hodkinson said Sultana’s future plans for the academy include building an actual working clinic on campus, staffed with professionals who would be shadowed and assisted by students. In the meantime, the program’s five-year plan is to offer students nationally recognized certification for jobs like EMT.
Charity Lindsey may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-951-6245. Follow her on twitter @DP_Charity.