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A Conversation With … Kelsey Brabo

Coordinator of Choice Programs and Student Experiences for Springfield Public Schools

Posted online

What is Springfield Public Schools’ magnet school for health care?
Mercy Health Sciences Academy is a partnership between Springfield Public Schools and Mercy Hospital. It was incepted five years ago, and through the process, we have created an experience where eighth-grade students are able to come into HSA and they are completely immersed in their normal eighth-grade curriculum, but it’s all taught through a health sciences lens. There are field experiences; there are experts and mentors that come in from Mercy and provide them extra opportunities where they are able to view the medical world just in a totally different light. The partnership has provided many real-life experiences to our eighth-grade students.

What does it mean to be taught through a health care lens?
Our students go through an orientation to be a Mercy employee. One of the main goals of HSA was that students wouldn’t come in and only be exposed to going in as a physician or nurse. They are taught through basically the city of what Mercy is: radiology, EMTs, labor and delivery. Our students that apply to HSA have an interest in the medical field, but (HSA) may be helping shape and either confirming that interest or showing you a different path. Those core subjects are covered in the morning time and then in the afternoon, they’re going to bring in, for example, a labor and delivery unit. They’re going to discuss all of the elements [of] health and science with specific health care fields and making those connections.

How are students selected for the academy and how is it funded?
If they are eligible to be an SPS student, then they can apply to be a part of the HSA program. It’s a lottery program. We normally have between 150 and 175 applicants for 50 positions. They do have a couple of criteria: They have to have positive attendance from sixth grade to seventh grade and minimal behavior issues. It’s totally free for students. The school system provides the supplies, the teacher salaries, and then the space is actually gifted to us from Mercy.

In Springfield and across the country, there is a shortage of health care workers. Is this program hoping to help fix that trend?
Any positive impact we can have on that is going to be a plus for us. The medical field is the No. 1 employer in our community. It’s an incredible opportunity for the largest district in the state to partner up with one of the largest employers to see how we can make an impact and how we can continue to have a lasting impact beyond just when the students are here. We are in year five, so we’re just now seeing what those career paths are of those HSA students.

What data do you track on SPS’ magnet schools?
This is the first year of what we are calling our endorsement process. We are going to be doing some self-reflection on all of our Choice Programs and make sure they are programs that are high-quality, student-centered and making sure there is a community connection. We will have a team of people come into our Choice Programs and we have a rubric that was designed by a group of stakeholders last year.

Kelsey Brabo can be reached at kebrabo@spsmail.org.

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