Through mentoring, USF Health helps new charter school build a pipeline for healthcare professionals

Like students in most schools, a group of elementary students in East Tampa started classes last month excited about the year ahead.

But this group is a little different. Uniforms are scrubs. Guest speakers are doctors, nurses, and the like. And field trips will be to area laboratories and maybe hospitals.

This group is the inaugural class for the King’s Kids Academy of Health Sciences, a new charter school putting an emphasis on health sciences and aiming to build a pipeline for healthcare professionals who will help ease the shortage of healthcare providers, especially minority professionals.

King’s Kids Academy of Health Sciences (KKAHS) earned approval to open from the School Board of Hillsborough County earlier this year. The school is targeting underserved low-income school-age students of the East Tampa area.

In designing its extensive curriculum that includes modules for learning about health and sciences and inspiring students to consider health careers, KKAHS has connected with many community health groups, including USF Health. Lennox Hoyte, MD, associate professor in USF’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Morsani College of Medicine, is acting as a mentor to the program, and sees the school as a good way to help ease the shortage in healthcare providers.

“It is important for these young kids to see a pathway for becoming healthcare professionals,” Dr. Hoyte said. “And starting early – demonstrating, as well as experiencing, aspects of health careers – is an ideal model for keeping that pathway open.  There is a dramatic shortage of healthcare professionals, especially minority healthcare professionals. So a curriculum like this can provide a high payoff for the community, the region, and the state, as well as the individual.”

In addition to Dr. Hoyte, pre-med students, medical students and faculty can be mentors and /or tutors, plugging into the school as guest speakers, helping on career days, offering support for various science and health projects, etc. As the school grows (it is starting with kindergarten, first and second grades only), the partnership has the potential to expand, as well.

Dr. Lennox Hoyte

“We are very excited to connect with USF Health and see USF students come in and work with our children,” said Maria Stroud, director of KKAHS.  “It is so important to have them there to instill in our kindergartners, first-, second- and third-graders the message that they can define who they will be, even at this young age, and say to them ‘hey, you can start building on this now.’ That’s a magnificent message.”

Also helping bridge the charter school with USF is Hiram Green, director of Community Engagement, who serves on the KKAHS board of directors.

Hiram Green

“As we work to transform healthcare, it is important for us to connect with our various communities and to use our intellectual capital to make them better,” Green said. “A school such as this could help implement a reversal of debilitating conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, infant mortality, and other chronic diseases that continue to plague our community. Starting with these children, we have an opportunity to put in their minds early, the necessity for good nutrition and the knowledge of science, things they will need in the future, whether they go into healthcare fields or not. Just for the betterment of themselves.”

For more information about the free, public school, and to enroll your child (KKAHS is still accepting students), visit King’s Kids Academy of Health Sciences web site.

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications