In the health sciences classroom at Ford High School in the Quinlan Independent School District, students are getting a teaching experience that only three other public school districts in the state offer.
Last week, the district finished putting together an "ambulance assimilator" station, where students can get a more genuine experience of working on a patient during an emergency, including how to load a patient on to the vehicle with a stretcher, as well as the communication that an emergency team needs to provide quality care.
The station is equipped with oxygen and suction capabilities, along with emergency lights that will allow them to run special drills that will prepare them for the future.
For the next few weeks, the district will be putting its finishing touches on the station with exterior decorations for the life-size ambulance station.
Health Science Teacher James Shoemake has been the instructor for the health science program since it was started three years ago. Before being hired by the district, Shoemake worked for Hunt County EMS and the Commerce Fire Department.
"We can run nighttime drills so students can get used to working in an actual scene," Shoemake said.
Shoemake told the Herald-Banner that about 200 students are currently part of the school's health sciences program.
"They're hungry to learn. They want to be the best that they can be," Shoemake said. "We're really building some steam with this program."
Anay Reyes is a junior at the high school. She said she has been in the health science program since her first year of high school.
Reyes said the addition of the assimilator is unique because it allows students to apply the knowledge that they have acquired.
"I want to go in to trauma care," Reyes said. "This helps a lot in every area because this is teaching us first aid, something that every medical professional should know."
Shoemake said the new station will give students a "leg up" as they get ready for their different careers in the medical field.
Recalling his own experiences while training to become a first responder, Shoemake thanked administrators and the school board for their support for the project, adding that similar stations are usually only found in the college or professional setting.
He said the process to get board approval and funding was about a little more than a month. The cost of the station was $33,000.
"This is affording us the opportunity to do it here and now so when they move into EMT, nursing or medical programs, they will already have been exposed to that and they will have a leg up on their peers."
Craig Underwood also teaches health sciences in the district, and has 11 years of experience working on helicopters as part of an air evacuation team. This is his first year teaching in the district.
"I love taking the knowledge I have to pass on to these students," Underwood said. "Whenever they get into their class, they can learn with more depth rather than just the basics."
Ford High School Principal Donald Merkel said he is happy that students in the health sciences program, those in it now as well as in the future, can benefit from such an interactive feature.
He gave credit to Shoemake and Underwood for instilling the passion they have in the medical field into the students who are following in their footsteps.
"When you're discussing something like this—health science or any other medical profession—it's one thing to read a book or to have a plastic dummy to look at, but it's another thing entirely to actually be in a situation that you could be in," Merkel said.
Assistant Superintendent John Milton said the station was a culmination of efforts that included students, teachers, administrators as well as the school board.
"The students and teachers saw something that could enhance the learning experience here, their curriculum director put that forward and everybody worked together to make it happen."
Shoemake himself is a graduate of Ford High School. As someone whose career did not start in education, he said it is heartwarming to see the support that administrators and the school board have shown for the health sciences program.
"We've got a school board and an administration team that are very supportive," he said. "They really do truly care about these kids and their future, and they're willing to do everything and anything to give them what they need."