New Vancouver high school will focus on health, bioscience

Evergreen Public Schools' HeLa High will open in fall

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


Updated: July 30, 2013, 3:49 PM


 Photo Gallery: Inside He-La High

A sneak peek in to Evergreen's new Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School.

HeLa High School

9105 N.E. Ninth St., Vancouver

School opens: Fall 2013. • Total estimated construction cost:

$23.7 million.

Maximum number of students: 500.

Size: 60,000 square feet.

Curriculum focus: A biosciences and health care curriculum that includes extensive partnerships with Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center and others to provide opportunities for hands-on learning.

Programs of study

• Nursing and patient services.

• Health informatics.

• Biotechnology.

• Biomedical engineering.

• Pharmacy.

On the Web

• Photo gallery: Tour the school.

Information on HeLa High.

Learn about Henrietta Lacks

• High schools similar to HeLa:

Health and Science School, Beaverton, Ore.

Bioscience High School, Phoenix, Ariz.

Fox Tech High School, San Antonio, Texas

The pharmacy is nearly ready. The state-of-the-art nursing station is down the hall. But this isn't a hospital. It's Vancouver's newest high school.

Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School — HeLa High for short — is such a rare model that a very small number of similar schools exist nationwide. When its doors open in September, students will experience hands-on learning with state-of-the-art technology and partnership opportunities with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, just a block away.

"The state has a number of schools focused on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math, " said Julie Tumelty, the school's principal. "But we haven't heard about another school in Washington that is specifically focused on health and bioscience."

As baby boomers age, studies point to an increasing need for well-trained health care workers. An Evergreen Public Schools study indicated about 20 percent of its ninth-graders planned to pursue a career in health care. It seemed an opportune time to pursue the specialty school. PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center has worked with the school district for almost a decade to help plan the school. The medical center benefits by helping funnel more local students into health care fields.

How HeLa is funded

In 2002, Evergreen Public Schools received a $200,000 federal Workforce Investment Act grant to investigate how to develop employees to meet the growing demand for the health care industry. That led to the decision to build a heath-focused high school.

The total estimated construction cost is $23.7 million. To help with construction, the district received a $17.4 million Qualified School Construction Bond, federal stimulus money that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The remaining money comes from a $1 million grant from the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED), proceeds from the district's previous land sales and state matching money.

The fast-growing district qualified for matching money because it has more than 1,200 high school students taking classes in portables. Moving about 500 of the district's high school students to the new school will ease the overcrowding and prevent the district from having to build another large, comprehensive high school in the near future.

Small footprint

The school's footprint of 2.9 acres is miniscule compared with the district's comprehensive high schools with between 40 and 50 acres each, including large sports fields and much larger parking lots. The outdoor space at HeLa includes four basketball hoops but no sports fields. The parking lot is small. In a nod of cooperation to the neighborhood, the district agreed that all students would arrive at the school via school bus. That'll prevent traffic congestion.

The 60,000-square-foot building was designed by LSW Architects and constructed by Skanska USA. If needed, an additional 20,000 square feet may be added later. Its high-tech design is apparent both inside and out. Two levels of solar panels on the south side will help provide power. The floors on the first level are polished concrete, and in the student commons the floor is heated for comfort.

Students will learn real-world nursing skills in the four-bed nursing station, complete with a simulated, interactive robot patient called SimMan. A simulation pharmacy and well-equipped laboratories will provide more hands-on learning. The library, called the research lab, will be stocked with a combination of electronic books and traditional paper textbooks.

Not traditional

HeLa isn't a traditional high school. It won't have sports teams, so instead of a large gym, the school has a fitness room where students will learn lifelong fitness using resistance training, mats, Pilates and medicine balls. There won't be a marching band or pep band, but a scaled-down music program may offer orchestra or symphony.

The first school year, the student body will consist of about 125 freshmen and 125 sophomores. The next two years, 125 freshmen will be added each year, so that 500 students eventually will be enrolled there. Students interested in attending the school completed an application and are being chosen via a lottery system from the district's comprehensive high schools, with an equal number of students coming from each school.

Classes will be integrated to create an overall focus on health and biosciences, Tumelty said. As an example, she said in English class, students will use informational texts and literature that are science-based.

"The goal is for students to see the connections between the disciplines so that they get a better view of how the real world works," Tumelty said. "Teachers will be working on creating these connections in authentic ways for students."

Freshmen and sophomores will take anatomy and physiology along with chemistry and biology "to give them a really good base in science," said Elisabeth Harrington, the district's director of curriculum and instruction. Before they enter their junior year, students will have to choose one of five pathways: nursing and patient care; health informatics (data processing); biomedical engineering; pharmacy; or biotechnology.

"In the first two years, as they're doing A&P, there will be a heavy emphasis on medical terminology," Harrington said. "Once they've picked their pathway, as juniors they'll partner with PeaceHealth with job shadowing opportunities. Seniors will have internships at PeaceHealth."

Who was Henrietta Lacks?

The cancerous cells of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Virginia, were harvested in 1951 without her knowledge and cultured for medical research to create an immortal cell line. Her cells were used to develop the polio vaccine, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and cloning, among other things. Although billions of her cells have been sold for research, her family can't afford health insurance. Her story was told in the nonfiction book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by author Rebecca Skloot. This is the first school building in the nation named after her.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515;;