Something curious is going on at Morristown High School. Students having English class in a laboratory? No, they're not pressed for space—just interested in science. It's another typical day at the Health and Medical Science Academy at Morristown High.
This special academy is a partnership between New Jersey business and high school educators to help New Jersey students move easily from the classroom into the workplace. These types of collaborations are becoming more popular as schools try to better prepare their students for life after high school. With the help of pharmaceutical partner Pfizer, Morristown High has enhanced the existing curriculum to give selected students an intense dose of math and science throughout their four years of high school. This is meant to prepare them for college and careers in the health, medical or pharmaceutical fields. "Our kids may not want to be a doctor, nurse or scientist. My answer to them is that what they're taking isn't eliminating anything from their curriculum other than electives like woodworking," explains Jill Magidson, the academy's project director. "We're adding to the students' academic repertoire. They're doubling up on math and science."
Through the Pfizer partnership, students get to experience the reality of their potential careers in a number of ways, including shadowing Pfizer employees on the job, turning to them as mentors and listening to them give presentations on various topics. "Pfizer has told its employees that this is not only sanctioned, but encouraged by the company's higher-ups," notes Magidson. "Not only do the school district administrators have to buy into this approach to education, but so do the corporate partners. They have to allow their employees to have time to devote to these programs. Pfizer has gone out of its way significantly to make this happen." Pfizer has also donated more than $500,000 to support the Career Academy and to help build a special academy lab at Morristown High.
What do the students think? "It's turned out to be better than I thought because I thought it was going to mean more studying," says Karen Murillo, a Health and Medical Science Academy senior. "I learn better hands-on and this program has expanded that for me. We're working on 3-D skeletons and get to put all the muscles where they belong. I want to be a gynecologist, but this shows you other careers, too. It's been good."
Magidson sees the academy as a way to reach a student population that often falls below the academic radar. "The needs of the students at the very top and the very bottom are either mandated or they're met," she says. "It's a huge group of students in the middle that are very often left floundering. Either they graduate high school and take multiple jobs, or they will go to college and not know what to do. We're hoping to provide them a focus. The worst case scenario: they go through four years of high school with a high concentration of math and science and then they go to college and become a philosophy major. They say they never want to see math or science again. At least they know."