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VOL. 122 | NO. 104 | Wednesday, June 6, 2007

New School Gives Students Science Frontiers To Conquer

By Amy O. Williams

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
South Side Health Career Academy
1880 Prospect St.
Principal Brenda F. Thompson
Opens in August
Enrollment: about 200
Grades 10 and 11

In the coming years, students of one new high school in Memphis will graduate with more than a diploma.

The students of the tentatively named South Side Health Career Academy will have the opportunity to receive professional certifications that could put them into the workforce immediately after graduation.

In doing so, the school will provide much-needed professionals to work in the city's booming medical community.

It starts with Brenda F. Thompson, the woman who has been named principal of the new school - and its biggest advocate.

"If I could have written my own job description, I couldn't have done it any better," Thompson said. "Because I love education, I love working with kids and I like putting them on the right track to a profession and seeing them achieve their potential."

Elite class

The school is set to open in August at what is now South Side High School on Prospect Street.

Memphis City Schools began accepting applications last month for the coming school year. Since the school will have a limited enrollment of about 200 students, only 10th and 11th graders who have a minimum grade-point average of 2.5 will be admitted. Students also must have a recommendation from a teacher or a counselor and must have an aptitude for science and math.

The first year the school is open will serve to establish its curriculum and form partnerships with area businesses such as Medtronic Inc. and Smith & Nephew Co. and medical professional organizations.

Members of the local academic community believe the school will be a great complement to existing educational programs in Memphis' schools, said Dr. Larry Tague, research associate in physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).

"I like science, and most kids don't, so it is really a challenge of mine. It is a thrill to get them to like science and to find just how rewarding the knowledge of science can be and how being in a medical or health care field can be."
- Brenda F. Thompson,
Principal, South Side Health Career Academy

Tague also is the co-investigator on a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant. Tague was one of three recipients of the $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stimulate the public's interest in science through education. He is holding a workshop to help teachers incorporate hands-on learning in their classrooms through the end of the week at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (MAHS). MAHS is a charter school that opened in 2003 and serves students in grades six through eight.

"We hope that both the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences and the South Side program will help educate students to better utilize their science skills," Tague said.

Seniors from South Side will be on campus during the first year of the Health Career Academy, but will not participate in the school's curriculum. Seniors who had attended South Side for high school and wanted to graduate from the school will be allowed to complete their final year there, Thompson said.

Liking science

Thompson, principal this past year at Wooddale High School, was a pre-medicine major at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she received degrees in biology and zoology. She later worked in sales for both the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries. Thompson said she hopes to draw on that sales background in developing necessary partnerships with the city's medical community.

"I used to be in sales, so 'no' doesn't mean anything to me," she said. "I'll say, 'What else can you do for us?'"

When she entered education, Thompson began teaching biology, chemistry and other advanced-placement science classes. She should feel right at home in the new health science-focused high school.

"I like science, and most kids don't, so it is really a challenge of mine," she said. "It is a thrill to get them to like science and to find just how rewarding the knowledge of science can be and how being in a medical or health care field can be.

"And where else but Memphis for this to happen? It's great."

Practical learning

Students will study in a hands-on environment, made possible by the small student body, Thompson said.

"It will be a small, focused learning community and failure won't be an option," she said.

Though all of the programs to be offered have yet to be set in stone, Thompson said she plans for the school to offer a certification in phlebotomy (drawing blood) and courses to prepare students for work as pharmacy technicians, prosthetics technicians or as paramedics.

Students also will be able to take courses in preparation to become emergency medical technicians (EMT), licensed practical nurses (LPN) or work in the biomedical industry. Some of the classes will be taught by registered nurses and Thompson said there does not seem to be a shortage of teachers interested in working at the school.

"I am hearing about students wanting to apply and people wanting to work there," she said.

Students at the new school should have plenty of one-on-one interaction with teachers.

"The teacher is going to know every kid and every kid is going to know every teacher," Thompson said. "If you've got an adult really caring about a child and their education, the statistics are showing that the students actually do better.

"And certainly there is something we have got to do, not only in Memphis, but in the entire United States."

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