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August 20, 2015

New Vancouver high school prepares students for careers in health care

  • It offers hands-on training and programs developed with help from medical professionals.
    LSW Architects


    Health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, both in employment and need for services.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations in health care-related fields are projected to increase by over 10 percent in the next decade. The need for health care services is also growing, with the number of people in Washington over the age of 65 projected to double between 2000 and 2020.

    These facts, coupled with the severe shortage of K-12 medical education programs in Vancouver, presented a compelling reason for Evergreen Public Schools to pursue funding for high school medical programs.

    In 2002, Evergreen Public Schools partnered with the Educational Service District 112, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council to write a grant requesting $200,000 from the state of Washington to explore high school medical programs co-located with a hospital facility. The state granted the research funding that same year.

    Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School — aka HeLa High — was constructed 10 years year and opened in 2013. Providing in-depth education and hands-on learning opportunities for students interested in medical careers, the school bridges the educational gap for the students of Evergreen Public Schools.

    Outside partnerships

    Photos by Max Mikhaylenko, courtesy of LSW Architects [enlarge]
    The 69,000-square-foot school has three levels and space for up to 600 students.

    For HeLa High to truly prepare students for postsecondary education and future careers, it was vital that the school’s curriculum be generated with the help of medical professionals. To accomplish this, Evergreen Public Schools conducted a number of community outreach symposiums and established unique partnerships with PeaceHealth, Legacy, Providence, Kaiser Permanente, Clark College, Washington State University Vancouver and private practitioners.

    The district and its partners determined which educational programs would be the most useful to the community and would provide the students with the best chance for success in health care careers. The result is a variety of program offerings in biomedical engineering, pharmaceuticals, biotech, health informatics, anatomy, microbiology, advanced biology and advanced chemistry.

    The partnerships also provided a number of benefits. Through them, the district was able to obtain in-kind contributions of equipment and curriculum and establish mentoring opportunities for students.

    The working relationship with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center facilitated locating the school on property near the center. This proximity fosters interaction between the medical professionals and students on a regular basis.

    Hands-on learning

    HeLa High’s 69,000-square-foot building is spread over three levels, providing educational space for up to 600 ninth-12th graders.

    The nursing suite was designed to train students to work with patients.

    Although the majority of the learning spaces in HeLa High are classrooms and specialized labs, the building also houses a music room, a technology-based resource center, and a commons that doubles as an eating area and a presentation space.

    Additionally, the building has a fitness room that is monitored by computers to provide integrated-learning opportunities for students interested in health education. The school is zoned to allow partial access for after-hours use by the community and members of the health industry.

    The knowledge gained through the partnership process helped inform the design of each of the spaces within the school to ensure they adequately support the educational goals, one of which was to provide hands-on learning opportunities.

    A nursing suite and pharmacy program are cornerstones in achieving this goal. The suite was designed to provide simulated opportunities to work with “real” patients for the distribution of probable prescriptions and responding to other call needs. The training can be recorded and viewed by the teaching staff from an adjacent control room where they can regulate the situations occurring in each patient room.

    Designed for flexibility

    As with all projects, a successful design accounts for future needs as well as current requirements.

    The school is designed with the understanding that the delivery system for education and the information provided to the students will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the state, the health care system and program changes.

    Providing flexibility was paramount to ensure the usability of the facility for decades to come. One example of adaptability is that learning spaces can be rearranged to provide large-group instruction, small-group discussion or single-student mentoring.

    The education program at HeLa High is based on having an understanding of how to approach an issue using science, math and English as a total package, rather than treating them as separate elements. As technology grows, students and teachers will become more knowledgeable about how education impacts the health care industry.

    Over time, the programs will be based more and more upon student research. Students are aided by school-wide Wi-Fi and computers in every classroom.

    Another important component to designing for the future is minimizing the building’s environmental impact. HeLa High is Evergreen Public Schools’ first project to meet the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol.

    One of the most unique sustainable design strategies is how the building addresses solar gain on the south facade. Sunshades constructed of photovoltaic panels provided by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation were installed to reduce energy use and provide an additional energy source for the facility. The foundation donated a kiosk located in the building’s lobby that monitors the energy input.

    Through relevant curriculum, hands-on learning and flexibility for the future, the Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School provides a stepping stone for high school students interested in pursuing medical careers. By providing the framework, Evergreen Public Schools is giving students the best chance for success and ensuring that the community will have qualified health care workers in the coming years.

    Veronica Tate is an interior designer and marketing coordinator at LSW Architects in Vancouver.

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