An innovative health sciences charter school in Springfield, Massachusetts will welcome its first high school freshman class at the end of August. The school uses the resources of the region’s largest hospital to put young people on a path to careers as health professionals.
Dozens of children and their parents were excited to see the building where classes will start in August. A former envelope company headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield is undergoing a $3 million renovation to become the new home of the Baystate Academy Charter School.
At a “sneak peak” last week, contractors were still hammering framing into place, hanging drywall, and painting. No furniture or classroom equipment was in place.
Reshunda Perry, who works in the health care industry, said her 12-year-old son Deavin will be a member of the new freshman class.
" He wants to be an NBA player," she said with a little laugh. " But maybe he'll have a job opportunity in the hospital."
Shanise Turner said she believes her son will have a better shot at getting into college if he attends Baystate Academy rather than remaining in the Springfield Public Schools.
" It is a better opportunity than the middle schools that are having trouble right now. I like the staff. They are willing to work with you if you have questions or concerns. You can walk right in the school when you want to and I like that," she said.
A lottery was used to fill the school’s 9th grade class. In its first two years of operation, the school was housed in a former parochial school building with grades 6-8. One new grade is being added each year to become a 6-12 school by 2018. Total enrollment then will be 560.
Executive Director Tim Sneed said the academy is a rigorous college-prep school that uses a project-based, hands-on approach known as Expeditionary Learning.
" There is good interest in pursuing alternative ways for students to get educated in Springfield, he said.
Sneed said the school will bring in health science professionals from local hospitals, colleges and universities to emphasis the importance of a college degree. Students in the upper grades will have internship opportunities at the health care facilities and the higher education institutions.
Baystate Health provided seed money for the charter school in hopes of producing the next generation of healthcare workers, according to Baystate CEO Mark Keroack.
" We hope to foster early interest and develop it with relative workplace experience," he said.
Baystate Academy grew out of an afterschool program launched by Baystate Health and the Springfield Public Schools about a decade ago. Keroack said 100 students who participated in the program went on to careers in health care and 80 of those people work at Baystate.
" We have trouble recruiting here in Springfield for people to work in the health professions. So, one strategy is to get people who already have roots in the community to develop that interest and gains the skills," said Keroack.
Baystate Health is the largest employer in western Massachusetts with a workforce of 11,500.