MONROE – North Carolina First Lady Kristin Cooper has visited with a lot of different people and has seen a lot of different things since her husband, Gov. Roy Cooper, was elected to the state’s top office in 2016.
But one thing the First Lady had not done before Nov. 14 was help middle school students dissect a pig’s heart. Well, Cooper can check off that box as she jumped in with both hands while touring the Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle School on Nov. 14.
At one point during her 90-minute visit, she helped a student to dissect a pig heart, even sticking her finger in the middle of the organ while the dissection was being shown on a screen in the lab. The dissection was just one of three projects students were working on during the visit.
“We are eating salad for dinner,” Cooper joked while taking off her surgical gloves.
The Health Sciences Academy opened last year in collaboration with Atrium Health and has an innovative curriculum that allows students in grades six through eight gain hands-on instruction in the clinical and operational aspects of healthcare. Students also take field trips to hospitals and clinics. They have even watched a kidney transplant on a live video feed. During the transplant, students were able to ask questions of the surgical team during the procedure.
A group of ambassadors took part in the demonstrations with Cooper. They also had a question-and-answer session with the First Lady. The HSA classes are open to all students at the school.
“This is great,” Cooper said. “We travel all over the state to schools, and we like to visit schools that are different and innovative that keep kids engaged. This is very unique, and it’s amazing what public schools can do when they get the resources they need to accomplish things that are innovative.”
Health sciences teacher Johanna Markiewitz said what Cooper saw during her visit happens almost every day in her classes. Markiewitz is one of three teachers in the HSA.
“They were doing a pig-heart dissection to better understand how the blood pumps to the heart,” Markiewitz said. “The main goals are to understand the chambers, valves and how the blood circulates to the heart. I am very impressed with these students, and they are very eager to do this dissection. Every unit we do starts with a problem or a patient.”
Andrew Houlihan, superintendent for Union County Public Schools, helped start a similar academy when he worked in Texas several years ago. He approached Atrium Health about starting an academy in Union County. Students in other UCPS middle schools can attend the academy if there are spots available. There are plans to have a similar HSA at Monroe High.
“Middle schools are about engagement,” Houlihan told Cooper. “We have to find ways to get kids engaged. If we can’t do that in middle school, when they get to high school, it’s too late. We wanted to find a way to bridge education and business. This is not a school turnaround strategy. This is an engagement strategy. I think you can see that these students are passionate about learning and they have a purpose coming to school. That is what it is all about.”
Michael Lutes, who is president of the Southeast division of Atrium Health, said the academy offers students a look at the medical and healthcare fields. Lutes traveled with Houlihan and several other people to Houston to get a first-hand look at the academy there.
“When I saw it in Houston, I knew instantly Atrium wanted to be part of this,” Lutes told Cooper. “Not only is it simply the right thing to do, but workforce development is an important part of we do. There are actually more healthcare jobs in our country than manufacturing jobs. With the aging population, we are concerned about where our future workforce is going to come from. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my workforce of the future is a mile away from my hospital.”
On the web: www.ucps.k12.nc.us/Domain/25.