October 7, 2020

Indianapolis Program Connects High School Kids With Health Care Careers

Article origination WFYI-FM
Azaria Watkins,15, is a freshman at Crispus Atticus High School in Indianapolis. - Courtesy of Indianapolis Public Schools

Azaria Watkins,15, is a freshman at Crispus Atticus High School in Indianapolis.

Courtesy of Indianapolis Public Schools

Any animals living around 38th and N. Irvington Avenue on the east side of Indianapolis are well-fed, if Azaria Watkins has anything to say about it.

“I was attracted to animals and I fed the squirrels outside,” Watkins, 15, said about her first memories of giving back in third grade. Now, she has bigger plans.

“I really want a job and I really want to make it,” she said.

The Crispus Attucks High School freshman hopes to turn her affinity for four-legged neighbors into a profession. She’s set on being the first veterinarian in her family.

Now, a new partnership at her school will help her get that chance.

Indianapolis Public Schools is partnering with Indiana University Health to launch a fellowship focused on health care at Attucks. The pilot program is an expansion of the district’s health sciences pathway.

Upon graduation, students who complete the fellowship will receive a job offer from IU Health, along with tuition assistance to complete a related degree. They are likely to land in patient-centered jobs such as a medical assistant or patient care assistant.

Principal Lauren Franklin says many Attucks students have a heavy burden — working to get an education while contributing to the family income.

The next generation

The school has about 1,100 students. Franklin estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent hold jobs. She said the coronavirus crisis highlights the need to make sure some of those students are in the next generation of health care providers.

“Anytime somebody can come along and help to alleviate some of those burdens, then that's a tremendous help to our students,” Franklin said. “That's one less thing that they have to figure out.”

Program organizers say the fellowship will provide a clear pathway for students to advance into a professional career — and help provide more diverse workers at IU Health.

There is a booming demand for health care professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that five of the nation’s 20 fastest growing industries over the next decade will be in health care and social assistance, the fastest growing major sectors of the economy. Demand for support by aging baby boomers and people who have chronic conditions will drive the projected growth, the agency reports.

Jamal Smith, director of government affairs and strategic partnerships for IU Health, has been working on the partnership for the past pear. He said it made sense to pick Attucks, considering the school sits in IU Health’s backyard, in what Franklin calls a “community of color.”

“If we turn on our sprinkler system, we're going to water their grass as well,” he said. “How do we think of ways we invest in the community in an impactful, transformational way that addresses all of the social impediments that have been highlighted by the communities and neighborhoods surrounding the hospital?”

Every day, families around Attucks face challenges like living in a food desert or finding affordable housing, Smith said. Opened in 1927 as the first all-Black high school in Indianapolis, Attucks still serves a mostly Black student body.

“As you leave the hospital, there's roughly a 13-year life expectancy [disparity] depending on the zip code you reside in,” he said. “So, the further you travel north when you leave the hospital, the longer you're expected to live, which is bananas to me.”

Access to higher ed

Smith said the IU Health-Attucks partnership will help by removing addressing another challenge: Access to advanced education. It also will improve the overall economic landscape of Indiana.

Organizers say the fellowship will be offered to freshmen at Attucks who can apply during the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year.

Franklin welcomes the opportunity to help her students.

“For someone to say, ‘Hey, we’d love to give you a job and to help to improve that quality of life,’ that's a blessing for so many of our kids,” she said.

Watkins plans to apply for the program during her sophomore year, in hopes of moving one step closer to serving the animals she is eager to heal. The offer of tuition assistance is her biggest incentive.

“I feel good about [the program] because I don't have to worry about [bills] in the future,” she said. “I can just maintain my good grades and maintain my GPA and not worry about not having a job.

This story was reported as part of a partnership between WFYI, Side Effects Public Media and the Indianapolis Recorder.

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