District partners with hospitals to provide opportunities for students

The Fort Smith School District has established a Health Sciences Academy that prepares students to enter the medical field.

The program began last year by exclusively enrolling sixth-grade students at Darby Middle School’s Academy of Health Sciences. This school year the academy has continued in Darby with sixth and seventh graders, said Tony Jones, the head of secondary education.

Next school year, sixth graders will stay in Darby, but seventh and eighth graders will learn at Mercy Hospital.

By the 2023-24 school year, sixth graders are expected to remain at Darby, seventh graders at Baptist Health, and eighth graders at Mercy.

Jones described the courses that academy students take as “through the lens of health care.”

Darby Middle School health science academy students study during class.

Angela Holwick and Christy Graham teach students at the Darby Academy of Health Sciences. Holwick has both a master’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in education.

They teach students all of the regular curriculum they would have as middle schoolers, but connect their learning to the health sciences.

“I think they’re just going to get a little more experience,” Holwick said of his students. “They’re going to have a bit more understanding at the next level. It just gives them a boost.”

Students from across the district apply to enter the program, and the process is competitive. Graham said the academy has 35 students this year and even more students are on a waiting list trying to get in.

“It’s been very educational,” said Jovan Anderson, who is at the academy.

He said he is learning more advanced science as part of the program.

“It really prepares us for the future,” said Moses Scoggins, who is also at the academy.

Graham Grubb said being at the academy gives him a chance to experience the medical world, which is important as he wants to be a doctor.

Devin Vilayvanh said his time at the academy gave him more freedom than a traditional classroom.

“Compared to other programs, I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Anthony Chansyna, who is also part of the academy.

The goal is to eventually have 150 students in the program, Jones said.

Jones said the academy of health sciences gives students an easier chance to transition into a job in the medical field after graduation. It also gives students who wish to pursue a secondary education in health sciences an edge over their peers.

Alex Gladden graduated from the University of Arkansas. She previously worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining The Times Record. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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