Weequahic classrooms transformed into health clinics and labs as part of Newark’s career readiness push

Inside their school building, students will learn to take blood pressure, analyze blood splatter, and give physical exams. Their classrooms have been set up like clinics, with mock crime scenes and patients. Science labs have been outfitted with microscopes and incubators.

Welcome to Weequahic High School, where a new allied health services academy will give high schoolers skills they can use in fields, such as physical therapy, exercise science, and health administration.

“We will dive deep into this work, into this pathway, and now the students will become great at it,” Weequahic Principal Andre Hollis said.

Students at Weequahic will soon train through a combination of in-classroom education, off-site learning, and specialized courses to earn industry certifications that could help them land internships in Newark and beyond. This is the third career-oriented academy to open this month in Newark schools. 

Its launch is another milestone in Superintendent Roger León’s efforts to revamp the district’s traditional high schools and better prepare students for college and careers — something that he’s talked about since his tenure began in 2018.

Earlier this month, Barringer High School announced a law and safety academy, and West Side High School said a business and finance program would open. A Newark career academy focused on teaching is scheduled to open at East Side High School. Each academy is paired with a magnet high school, as well as a college and professional organization in the industry of their specialization, providing students with mentors and additional educational opportunities.

Weequahic students will get support from Rutgers School of Nursing, Rutgers School of Health Professions, and RWJBarnabas Health. The academy is partnering with Science Park, a science magnet and one of the district’s top-performing schools. Berkeley College School of Health Studies is among several other local organizations providing additional support.

Weequahic already offers some health-related courses, but with the announcement of the new academy, students will have the opportunity to gain medical technical certifications and credentials, helping to prepare them for jobs. 

“It’s been proven time and time again that real-world experience and goal direction leads to student success,” said Barbara Gladson, associate dean for academic affairs at Rutgers School of Health Professions. “By the time your students graduate from high school, they will be well equipped to meet many of the healthcare challenges that we struggle with today… and will be leaders at a time when their services will be in great demand.”

Weequahic High School principal Andre Hollis announces the school’s new allied health program. (Devna Bose/Chalkbeat)

According to the district, Newark Public Schools has spent nearly $375,000 improving facilities and infrastructure in the schools hosting the new programs.

In the coming months, the health sciences academy’s partners will provide feedback and make recommendations for advancing the program, which will have some offerings this school year.

“It’s always about improving what we’re offering. I think we have a good start, but these programs must, in fact, be ready for freshmen who will be reporting to this school in September of 2020,” León said, noting the date the academy is expected to be fully up and running. “I know that these young people are extremely excited.”

Freshman student Hasson Bass isn’t sure yet of what he wants to do when he graduates, but he knows he wants to work in healthcare and is grateful for the creation of the academy.

“In some schools, people don’t have this,” he said. “We’re learning something new, and this is going to take us somewhere.”

Reporters were invited to the program announcement, but district officials took no questions.

Correction: November 22, 2019: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Barbara Gladson was the associate dean of academic affairs with RWJBarnabas Health. The story has been updated to reflect her correct title as associate dean of academic affairs at Rutgers School of Health Professions.