TSCORE LIFT program to create health science learning opportunities for underserved Kansas high school students
September 08, 2021
By Kristi Birch
High school students in five school districts across Kansas will soon have a chance to participate in an interactive community-based curriculum designed to teach them about health sciences and introduce them to careers in health care.
This new curriculum will be the product of TSCORE LIFT (Teachers and Students for Community Oriented Research and Education: Linking Industry, Faculty, and Teachers), a program created by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center. TSCORE LIFT is funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), totaling $1.3 million over five years, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The program connects high school teachers at Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence and Hays school districts with local health systems and university faculty so that they can work together to create a health science curriculum and provide work-based learning experiences, such as at health system sites or university laboratories, to students who otherwise might not have that opportunity.
"We also want to inspire young people to think about their communities in ways that they haven't really connected to a career," said Megha Ramaswamy, Ph.D., MPH, professor in the Department of Population Health at KU Medical Center and a principal investigator for TSCORE LIFT. "For example, students in Hays know about the farming industry there and probably have relatives in that industry. We want to create a program that roots their science education in those real experiences and helps make them excited about these careers."
The number of jobs available in the health care industry to is projected to grow rapidly. Meanwhile, there are already serious shortages in the number of workers across the country, including in Kansas, adding to the urgency to reach kids less likely to be served with this kind of experiential curriculum and exposure to vocations in the health sciences.
TSCORE LIFT builds on the original TSCORE program, also funded by a SEPA in 2015, through which high school teachers at public schools in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas, created health science units relevant to their communities. That program served approximately 600 students in those urban areas across five years.
TSCORE LIFT, which is expected to reach 1,400 students, expands the program to include school districts in Lawrence and Hays, the first rural site. Moreover, it forges partnerships for these school districts with local universities and health systems. The partnerships are:
- Kansas City: the University of Kansas Medical Center, The University of Kansas Health System and Kansas City, Kansas, public schools (USD 500)
- Wichita: Wichita State University, Via Christi Health, and Wichita public schools (USD 259)
- Topeka: Washburn University, The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis, and Topeka public schools (USD 501)
- Lawrence: University of Kansas, The University of Kansas Health System, and Lawrence public schools (USD 497)
- Hays: Fort Hays State University and Hays public schools (USD 489)
As with the first grant, TSCORE LIFT uses a bottom-up approach. Rather than executing a curriculum delivered by the awardees of the grant, the partners will work together to create a grades 9-12 curriculum that includes:
- an Introduction to Health Careers course
- a biology course taught via a "storyline" model, in which each step of learning and teaching is driven by student questions that arise as they learn
- a Capstone course that addresses actual health-related problems
"This grant also provides meaningful professional development opportunities for teachers," said Maria Alonso Luaces, Ph.D., director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the KU School of Medicine and a co-investigator for TSCORE LIFT. "During the summer, teachers will be able to intern themselves in labs or around the hospital. The idea is that they will be able to be able to bring back knowledge to the classroom that is up to date, rigorous and also exciting."
In the classroom also, students are encouraged to drive the conversation about the health needs of their communities.
"Kids are paying attention to and love talking about things that are immediately relevant to them," said Julia Boge, who was a high school teacher in Wichita during the original TSCORE program. "We talked a lot about mental health issues and the mental health of youth, about substance misuse—vaping and alcohol—and resources in terms of access to mental health care. Students come into the classroom thinking they're going to be doctors or nurses, which is really important. But health care is so much broader than that. And they can influence the health of their community in so many other ways, too."
The University of Kansas Health System helped conduct a small pilot of the Introduction to Health Careers course toward the end of the first TSCORE program. Students from the Kansas City, Kansas, public schools came to the health system to participate in panel discussions with people in a variety of careers at the health system.
"We are just really excited to have an opportunity to work with local high school kids and help them to understand what careers there might be in health care and continue working with the community in this way," said Jeff Novorr, vice president of hospitality services at The University of Kansas Health System and a co-investigator on TSCORE LIFT. "It's a great program. It's great for kids."