The young sixth- through eighth-graders have studied the heart, eye, ear, skeletal system and nutrition among other subjects. They have performed anterior cruciate ligament repairs — on the computer; witnessed a cataract surgery — via a video clip; and thoroughly disgusted their families.
Medical Sciences teacher Ginger Crouch recalled the video with a smile.
“A majority of them are watching with their mouths dropped open and saying, ‘That is so amazing,’” Crouch said. “They will come back and say, ‘We got on YouTube and I showed my whole family. My dad was freaking out.’”
Two Medical Sciences courses are currently offered at Cleveland Middle. One is geared toward sixth-graders on a nine-week rotation. The other is an 18-week, in-depth course for seventh- and eighth-graders. Both are new for Tennessee.
“This is new to the state. This is the only middle school in the entire state to have medical sciences,” Crouch explained. “We are the pilot program.”
Career and Technological Education supervisor Renny Whittenbarger and CMS Principal Mike Collier fought for the chance to offer the program. They argued a medical sciences option at the middle school would better prepare students for choosing a path in high school.
Crouch writes the pacing schedule and standards as the year continues. The state’s department of education gave guidelines with room to maneuver. Both Crouch and Whittenbarger stay in communication with the state about the program’s status.
“I tell them what is working, what isn’t, what is too advanced and where I think we could go deeper,” Crouch explained. “A lot of this we are learning as we go.”
One of the first subjects studied by both the sixth and upper grades is medical careers. A majority of the students think there are only doctors and nurses. Students are often astounded to discover there are more than 250 options, especially when Crouch points out some options include being a medical illustrator or a medical interpreter.
“Well, I already speak Spanish,” exclaimed some of the students. Crouch responds by informing them a bachelor’s degree in Spanish will help them become an interpreter. She also adds the caveat of how much students will make in each profession.
Many seem particularly entranced by the pharmaceutical profession.
Studying the careers helps jump-start student interest.
“They come in and are like, ‘Ugh, this is not for me,’” Crouch said mimicking her students. “I had a lot of kids who walked in thinking, ‘I am going to take this class because I need related arts,’ who later became excited.”
Lessons at the middle school level relate to the health sciences courses offered at Cleveland High School. For example, high school students study medical legal issues. Crouch and her high school counterparts believed this was too difficult for students. Instead, middle school students learn about cultural diversity. The same information will be briefly touched on again at the high school level before launching into legal studies.
All students will learn about first aid.
Kids, Crouch explained, get hurt all of the time.
Her goal is to provide enough information at the sixth-grade level to help students determine whether they will request the more in-depth course at the seventh- or eighth-grade level.
Added Crouch, “Even if they don’t want the health care path, hopefully they will learn enough to take care of themselves or someone else.”
Students are kept tuned-in to classroom activities through inclusive discussions, hands-on activities, short video clips and the class rule to have fun.
Everyone has to learn something every day.
“I try to make it something interesting, because I love interesting facts,” Crouch said. “I have had more and more kids come back telling me, ‘Hey, I told my parents and they did not know that.’ So they feel like they are smart, and that they know something their parents didn’t know.”
According to Crouch, the students were hooked after the first question: Who knows what the largest organ of the body is? Many were in awe when they found out it was their skin.
Several visitors have already stopped by to give guest presentations. Crouch is a certified surgical technician with many ties to the Cleveland and Chattanooga area. She is now pulling on those ties to open the medical world to her students.
Students currently have the opportunity to take the course in the sixth grade and seventh or eighth grade. Ideas for the program include making three separate levels or offering an exemption for students who take medical sciences in the upper grades.
For now Crouch and her students are taking everything one day at a time.
“Now that I am here, I am super excited. I get more excited all the time as I figure it out,” Crouch shared. “... It is kind of like the first child. I am making all the mistakes this semester. I hope they don’t notice that— and then I make notes. As I figure it out, I get more excited.”