HeLa High ready to inspire teens (with video)

School is state's first dedicated to health, bioscience

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

 
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The state-of-the-art mock pharmacy, nursing station and biotechnology lab at Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School are ready to inspire students to pursue health and medical careers.

But before the state's first health and bioscience high school welcomes its first students, it's putting out the welcome mat to the community Thursday afternoon with public tours beginning at 3:30 p.m.

Nicknamed HeLa High, the new school is immediately north of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. That proximity will enable students to learn hands-on medical work via internships at the hospital and for medical staff to be guest instructors at the school, said Nicole O'Rourke, an English teacher at HeLa who was assisting student-led tours on Tuesday.

The world-class school has attracted teachers with real-world experience in their fields of study. Students will spend their entire day at HeLa High.

Linda LeBard, a former molecular biologist who worked in research at Oregon Health & Science University, was preparing her classroom. In the fall, when the school consists of freshmen and sophomores, LeBard will teach chemistry and biology. But in two years, when the school enrollment includes juniors and seniors, she will teach the more advanced biotechnology.

"There's a lot of cool stuff in biotechnology," LeBard said. She added that she hopes to instill in her students "some of the excitement I feel for the subject."

Down the hall, Denise Marychild, the American Sign Language teacher, says she is enthusiastic about teaching in a small high school. Last year, Marychild taught ASL at the district's Union High School. Previously, she taught at the Washington State School for the Deaf and has been a professional sign language interpreter for 25 years.

Marychild says she likes the focus on science. Students who continue into the second year of ASL will learn to sign medical terminology. That will make the students more employable, she said.

In the nursing station, patient beds are occupied by SimMan, a computerized simulated patient. Teachers can program SimMan with various symptoms so that students can practice diagnosing and treating patients. Two simulated arms lay on gurneys, ready to teach students how to quickly find a vein for an IV, to draw blood or give inoculations.

All classrooms — including the nursing station — are designed for student collaboration. Tables are grouped together to facilitate students interacting and learning together.

"Our goal is to design the school as a college campus, with students collaborating just like in the medical field," said Imrin Uppal, 15, who will be a sophomore at HeLa in September.

Uppal, who plans to study nursing at HeLa, first learned about the medical-focused school from her middle-school counselor and applied as soon as she could.

HeLa students must live in the Evergreen district. They are selected by a lottery system and are equally divided among the district's high schools. There is no minimum grade point average nor do students have to demonstrate an interest in health or medical careers, although many students, like Uppal, are interested in pursuing health and medicine.

In the fall, 125 freshmen and 125 sophomores will attend the school. Eventually, the school will house 500 students in grades nine through 12.

"This school will help us know whether we want to pursue a certain career path," Uppal said.

Her long-term goal is to attend medical school at Stanford and become a cardiac surgeon.

"I'm excited to enter into that world," Uppal said.

Who was Henrietta?

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 Lacks' cells have been sold for medical research, her family can't afford health insurance.

Lacks' story was told in the nonfiction book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. In their English classes, all HeLa High students will read and discuss the book about biomedical ethics.

This is the first school building in the nation named after her. Aug. 1, the date of the school's grand opening, would have been the 93rd birthday of Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com

If you go

■ What: Grand opening of Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School.

■ When: 3:30 p.m. building tours, 4 p.m. program on Thursday, Aug. 1.

■ Where: 9105 N.E. Ninth St.

■ RSVP: 360-604-4088 or community.relations@evergreenps.org.

■ On the Web: http://www.helahigh.org

Did you know?

■ One of a handful of similar health-medical high schools nationwide.

■ State’s first high school pharmacy training program.

■ District: Evergreen Public Schools.

■ SimMan, an interactive robot patient, will help teach students real-world nursing skills.

■ Juniors and seniors will do internships with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, a block away.

HeLa High by the numbers

■ School grounds: 2.9 acres.

■ Building: 69,000 square feet on three floors.

■ Student population 2013-2014: 125 freshman and 125 sophomores; eventually, 500 students in grades 9-12.

HeLa High areas of study

Students will choose one of five areas of study:

■ Nursing/patient services: The care and well-being of the patient.

■ Pharmacy: The study of medicine and interaction with the human body. Students will study advanced chemistry, medicinal chemistry, advanced physiology with options to study immunology, microbiology and molecular biology.

■ Biomedical engineering: Uses traditional engineering skills to analyze and solve problems in medicine. Students will study biomechanics, cellular and molecular biology and advanced physiology.

■ Biotechnology: Applies knowledge of cells, DNA and protein to solve complex human problems. Students will study organic chemistry, cellular and molecular biology and applied genetics.

■ Biomedical informatics: Uses computer applications to manage medical data. Students will study computer science, computer programming and data analysis.

HeLa High construction

■ Total construction cost: $17 million (excluding sales tax).

■ Money came from Qualified School Construction Bond, federal stimulus money that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; $1 million grant from the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development; proceeds from the district’s previous land sales and state matching money.

■ Architect: LSW Architects.

■ Builder: Skanska USA.

■ Two levels of solar panels on the south side provide some of the building’s power.

View a video of future students talking about HeLa High on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.