Harlingen School of Health Professions
(HSHP) is a remarkable example of what is possible when a district is driven by a strategic plan developed collaboratively with community stakeholders. With the license afforded by such a plan, Harlingen CISD embarked upon an ambitious vision for the HSHP that otherwise would not have been possible.
With help from the Texas Workforce Commission, Harlingen CISD staff identified the medical field as a future regional workforce need. What makes the HSHP distinctive is that the district insisted upon making the future employers of its students — the health care industry itself — part of the solution from the beginning. The result is a school that challenges its students with a rigorous and relevant curriculum and is able to adjust its offerings to fit changes in the health care field. For example, the HSHP recently identified opportunities for students to conduct medical research at the newly formed University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, a partnership that was not part of the HSHP vision when it opened in the fall of 2014.
Planning began with the end in mind, referred to as the 13th Year Profile. Shaped by six graduate-centered goals, this profile drove all design decisions from the curriculum to the building’s layout.
Students at the Harlingen School of Health Professions in Harlingen CISD gain real-world experience in six strands of study, including dental science, patient care, surgical procedures, pharmacology / biomedical technology, medical science research and sports medicine / therapeutic services.
The first goal states that HSHP graduates will develop a personal
protocol to support their wellness. This involves investigations into
personal beliefs and the work-self balance that students will negotiate
as they transition into postsecondary education and beyond.
The second goal states that graduates will have participated in focused learning experiences with health care professionals. One of the key decisions that rose out of this goal was to create six demand-driven strands of study, each with dedicated classrooms and specially designed labs. These strands are dental science, patient care, surgical procedures, pharmacology/biomedical technology, medical science research and sports medicine/therapeutic services.
Students apply to the HSHP in seventh grade. Students gain substantial exposure to all six strands in eighth, ninth and 10th grade. Each Wednesday and Thursday, for example, medical professionals from each strand visit the school and speak to students. Tenth graders participate in mock medical school rounds within each strand and engage in real-work activities in a real-world environment. For example, pharmacists from the community model workplace processes in the school’s pharmacy lab, which meets all industry standards. By the end of their sophomore year, students are prepared to declare their chosen strand, having had three years of authentic learning and career exposure in all strands.
Starting this school year, Harlingen CISD is utilizing the latitude afforded by its TEA Innovative District designation to hire world-class teachers with industry experience. The district is leveraging its relationships with health care professionals as a means to identify potential teachers for the HSHP classrooms.
The third goal states that students will have integrated high school, college and professional experiences with an emphasis on math and science. In 11th grade, students engage in coursework that leads to certifications aligned to their chosen strand. Seniors are placed in half-day workplace internships, which provide authentic learning experiences aligned to their chosen strands. To allow time for the internships, the high school curriculum is accelerated, beginning with the incoming eighth graders.
The fourth goal states that the HSHP graduates will have an established lifestyle of commitment and volunteer community service. The fifth goal states that the curriculum will cultivate characteristics that embody determination, empathy and dedication. In the internships, there is a strong focus on developing soft skills, such as interpersonal communication skills, which are necessary for success in the workplace.
The sixth and final goal states that students will experience instruction that aligns with area postsecondary institutions. The curriculum for each of the strands is developed with input from postsecondary institutions and health care professionals.
The HSHP is a bold initiative with a nontrivial price tag. Understandably, the district faced challenges in making the school a reality. The district had to be creative in procuring startup costs. It was able to obtain funding through the Qualified Schools Construction Bond at a low-interest rate, subsidized by the federal government. Now that the startup expenses have passed, the school is supported through the regular district budget.
Also, there were questions, for example, regarding the decision to build a new facility when existing facilities required repair and maintenance. There also were challenges in defending the need for the HSHP in the first place.
These are valid concerns that any stakeholder should express to ensure responsible stewardship of a community’s children and finances. Fortunately, the district was well positioned to respond to these concerns, as the strategic plan provided a clarity of purpose that was communicated in a common language for the whole community. The collaborative process behind the plan cultivated the trust and community support necessary to bring the plan into reality.