On-site classes enthrall, unsettle students

But the students from two area high schools stayed glued to their chairs in a training room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Projected on a large screen at the head of the class was the ivory neck of a 70-year-old patient identified only as Jane Doe. Surgeon Peter Mowschenson then brought out his scalpel and made an incision.

The students gasped. Some covered their mouths. Others clutched their classmates. Nobody left.

“I was grossed out,’’ confessed Alicia Forde, a 17-year-old Madison Park High School junior, after the thyroidectomy. “But then I started to get used to it.’’

Many students learn about the sciences with their eyes half shut, fighting to stay awake as their teachers speak at the blackboard. But Forde and more than 40 students from Madison Park and Brookline high schools saw their lesson on the endocrine system come to life yesterday as the surgeon removed the left lobe of the patient’s thyroid gland, which was possibly cancerous.

The students are part of a high school program that immerses them in the fast-paced medical environments of Beth Israel Deaconess, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. In addition to health classes at their high schools, the students spend one hour a week at the medical school’s Gilbert Simulation Laboratory, where they work on simulated cases, from accidents to diseases.

The program began as a one-week summer initiative at the Gilbert laboratory. Last year, Julie Joyal Mowschenson helped expand it to a full course at Brookline High School, where she teaches science. This year, she got Madison Park Technical and Vocational High School in Roxbury to sign up.

Officials hope the program will be expanded to Cambridge Rindge and Latin School next year and - ultimately - nationwide.

Julie Joyal Mowschenson, whose husband performed yesterday’s thyroidectomy, said her aim is to make science exciting for students who might not otherwise like it or excel in it.

“This is really a national issue,’’ said Mowschenson, who is a registered nurse. “We are not keeping up with how we are teaching science to kids. . . . We need an innovative approach.’’

Nancy E. Oriol, dean of students at Harvard Medical School, said the hands-on program allows the teens to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills while teaching them about human anatomy in an unconventional manner.

This “allows young students to actually . . . see how science is alive in the human body,’’ she said. “Students this age are very interested in how their bodies work.’’

State Education Secretary Paul Reville, who was at the viewing, hailed the effort as ground breaking, saying that more efforts should be taken to engage young people in the field of science


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