Baylor College of Medicine president, CEO and executive dean Dr. Paul Klotman recently told an assembly of more than 200 people that he fully expected one of them to have his job in the future. He wasn’t speaking to a gathering of faculty members or even medical students. He was talking to the inaugural graduating class of 8th graders at the Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan, a magnet school started through an affiliation agreement between the Houston Independent School District and Baylor College of Medicine in 2013.
Preparing students for successful biomedical careers has been the goal of magnet programs such as the one at the Academy: give students the tools and academic preparedness they need to become future healthcare professionals and leaders. Baylor and HISD’s partnership activities date back to the 1970s with the establishment of the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, which is why when the historic Ryan Middle School in Houston’s Third Ward was experiencing declining enrollment, the district reached out to Baylor to create a model similar to DeBakey High School, but for a middle school.
While students apply to the program, admissions is based completely on a lottery system.
The Texas Education Agency’s Preliminary 2016 School Report Card for BCMAR rated the campus has having met the accountability standard with seven out of seven distinctions: Reading/English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Top 25 percent Student Progress, Top 25 percent Closing Performance Gaps, and Postsecondary Readiness.
Baylor even has a dedicated faculty member on the middle school campus whose role is to provide teacher professional development and curriculum support for the specialized health science courses as well as develop special activities linking the Texas Medical Center to the school.
The curriculum includes neuroscience in 6th grade, scientific decision making in 7th grade and biotechnology and bioengineering in 8th grade. All students go into pre-AP (advanced placement) courses and all students take three years of Latin.
“There is a strong commitment to academic rigor,” said Moreno.
However, because each incoming class has students representing more than 100 elementary schools in the district, the level of preparation in math, science and reading in these students is highly variable. The school has programs in place to help students catch up if they are not prepared for the workload, and it starts the summer before 6th grade through a two-week summer camp. While the camp is voluntary, most students participate. They have the opportunity to get to know one another and are introduced to the culture of the school so that they know what will be expected of them.
Throughout the school year, tutoring and special sessions are also offered to help close the learning gap and help students reach their potential.
The numbers show its working. In 2016, the Texas Education Agency awarded the school seven distinction designations for academic achievement in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, as well as recognition for student progress, postsecondary readiness and closing performance gaps.
According to Moreno, what makes the program at Ryan successful and special includes: a strong commitment from the school district, strong school leadership, excellent teachers, unique curriculum, connections to the Texas Medical Center and parent engagement.