Computer-controlled robots mazed through the hallways while students learned CPR on manikins just across campus. Meanwhile, students crime-scene investigations were happening at a different corner of the school, near the area where students were engaging in nutrition classes and CrossFit-like workouts.
This is all part of the innovative EPISD Summer Medical Prep Academy — an intense three-week camp where more than 550 middle-school students are learning the basics of health using STEM education.
The new camp replaced the former Developing Research and Early Aspirations Medical Scholars (DREAMS) and offers similar opportunities to students for all EPISD middle schools.
The program, previously housed at Silva Health Magnet, had been limited to incoming sixth graders at Title 1 campuses. The Academy has now been moved to Henderson and is open to any incoming middle-school student in the District.
“This is a great way to keep your brain active during the summer,” said Hornedo sixth grader Merrik Brewer. “It’s important to keep the brain active because it’s good for your learning.”
Merrik joined the program because of its promise of robotics and crime-solving activities and looks forward to the exercise component to beef up his soccer game. His fellow Hornedo classmate Jose Escobedo sees the academy as an opportunity for career exploration.
“I’ve learned how to take DNA out of a strawberry and learn how to solve a crime based on people’s stomach content,” Jose said. “I like learning, and this is fun learning.”
Academy coordinator Ashley Sheldon explained that the hands-on projects and activities build students’ experiences and knowledge without appearing to be like regular school.
“We work really hard to make sure that there are no handouts, no lectures,” Sheldon said. “They’re sharing things and they don’t even realize that they’ve learned things at this point because they didn’t take any notes or listen to a teacher lecture. They just worked hands-on with projects.”
All aspects of the medical prep program are student-driven, teacher-facilitated – especially the robotics section.
“The teacher’s there to help them, but they come up with our own robot design with their own claw and their own programming,” Sheldon said. “By the end, and they get a robot through the obstacle course where before they had no knowledge of how to do that.”
Every three days, the students rotate through the forensics, medical applications and robotics. Students solve a crime through DNA, fingerprinting and fiber analysis during the forensics piece. In the medical applications segment, students learn to take each other’s blood pressure and use a practice doll to apply chest compressions for a lesson in basic CPR. A Cross-Fit-like activity – known as Raise Up the Bar – gets their heart rates up and complements a nutritional component.
“The kids are loving it,” said Bobby Macias, who created Raise Up the Bar at Ross Middle. “They’ve been very receptive to trying new things.”
The component introduces students to a variety of exercises associated with Cross-Fit-like classes including push-ups, squats, lunges and 400-meter runs.
“We’ve been introducing them to functional movements, and we’ve noticed the friendships they are forging while doing the workouts,” Macias said. “A lot of them are saying ‘I wish we had this class at our school.’”
Meanwhile, in the nutrition classroom, students examined test tubes with different foods and taking note of their fat and calorie content. The kids got a visual perspective of the fat in foods common in their diets: brownies, buttered popcorn, cheese, ice cream sandwiches, an apple and pudding.
“Check out the fats,” said JaMya Lynn-Carswell, holding a tube labeled trail mix 350 calories and 22 grams of fat for a half-cup serving. “I was surprised by the trail mix. I see a lot of people eating trail mix in exercise commercials but they’re eating more fat.”