DHS program teaches more than medicine

IT’S A BOT — DeLand High School’s Emergency Medical Responder students Katarina Penzel and Collins Reaves take their final exam in 2016 at Daytona State College’s state-of-the-art simulation center. For all the students in the course, the final includes delivering a robotic baby.

IT’S A BOT — DeLand High School’s Emergency Medical Responder students Katarina Penzel and Collins Reaves take their final exam in 2016 at Daytona State College’s state-of-the-art simulation center. For all the students in the course, the final includes delivering a robotic baby.


Six hundred high-school students sign up each year for the DeLand High School Health Science Education program. 

The program can accommodate only about half that number.

Perhaps the program’s popularity has to do with the senior-year final exam, which includes delivering robotic babies at Daytona State College. Or, it may be the job prospects for graduates.

The popularity may also have something to do with the program’s instructor, Cindy Hunt.

These days, Hunt said, about 340 DeLand High School freshmen enter the program each year. They’re selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

“When I started, there were 132 students, total,” said Hunt, a registered nurse and paramedic who began teaching at the school five years ago.

A long career aboard ambulances and in hospital emergency rooms armed Hunt with plenty of real-life scenarios to interest students. 

Hunt’s development of the program and her ability to motivate and train the students caught the attention of retired teacher Sue Atkinson, who taught what was then called Cooperative Health Occupations at DHS, and who also was very popular with students throughout her 25-year tenure. 

“She has just a lovely personality,” Atkinson said of Hunt. “She’s just full of enthusiasm.”

Then-DHS Principal Mitch Moyer approached Hunt while she was employed as a school nurse, with the idea of starting a health-services program similar to those in other area schools. Hunt said yes.

Hunt and her co-instructor Faith Denigan work closely with teachers from other schools, and partner with Daytona State College to provide a broader range of study and opportunity.

“It helps to be under the DSC umbrella because they give a lot of scholarships,” Hunt said.

As Elizabeth Pena wraps up her first year at DeLand High School, her passion for this elective is in full bloom.

“Medical Skills has taught me so much that I didn’t know,” she said. “Right now, we are learning about Level 1 Scenario Team, and we just finished learning CPR. I think everyone should do this if they want to go into the medical field or not, because you learn so much.”

She described Hunt as “an amazing teacher.”

Students get plenty of hands-on opportunities to apply what they learn in practice scenarios. A team leader assigns jobs, such as clearing an airway, holding the cervical spine, checking vital signs, checking blood sugar, and wound control. 

Using the acronym SAMPLE — signs and symptoms, allergies, medications, past medical history, last oral intake and events preceding the emergency — another team member will interview the “patient’s” family, Hunt said. 

“Each person is assigned to something, and Ms. Hunt will help us along the way,” Pena said. “One of the things that makes her a great teacher is that she has so much patience with us and helps us catch up. She talks to each and every student to make sure they’re understanding. She will also ask questions at the end to see if anyone is confused. Also, she makes everything fun and entertaining.”

The student “medical team” works to evaluate and treat the patient before transport to the hospital. As students progress through the program, their scenarios grow more challenging.

“This is all a simulation,” Hunt said. “My 12th-grade students have Level 4 Scenarios, which are much more difficult.”

As part of patient assessment, the introductory course teaches students to determine and record body temperatures, weight, blood pressure and respirations. They also learn to splint broken bones.

“They go home and practice on their parents, take photos, and their parents sign off,” Hunt said.

Those hands-on activities are what most inspire the students, according to the teacher.

And they benefit others. 

A ninth-grader recognized that her grandmother was having a stroke. Another freshman saved his baby sitter from choking. And, an 11th-grader, working at a Wendy’s restaurant, administered CPR to a customer who went into cardiac arrest.

“They get extra credit if they save a life,” Hunt said.

This year alone, Hunt has certified about 300 people on the DeLand High campus in CPR.

“Everyone should learn it,” she said.

Job prospects for graduates are good. Those who complete the senior-year emergency-responder course and pass a state-certification exam are ready to work as emergency responders. 

But most program participants are so motivated that they go on to pursue degrees in all areas of the medical field, Hunt said.

They choose career paths in pediatric and emergency-room nursing; cardiovascular and neurosurgery, and study to be emergency-room physicians or firefighters and emergency medical technicians, according to Hunt.

“Some want to go into genetics and lab testing, and a couple wanted to be veterinarians,” she said.

“I do plan on going into the medical field becoming an emergency-room nurse or an obstetrician/gynecologist surgeon,” Pena said. “I would really like to get a scholarship, and this program does help with that.”

For Hunt, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program is watching students learn to work together and to respect all people.

“They know they’re going to be [attending] Asian, Muslim, African-American and Jewish people,” Hunt said. “The pigment of your skin does not define who you are; it’s your actions.”

Sharing her work experiences, she emphasizes the importance of cultural sensitivity. 

For example, Hunt said, when caring for a patient who is Muslim, body coverage is crucial. 

“You check one thing and cover the area back up,” she said.

Sensitivity to the needs of others engenders other good results in the classroom.

“We don’t have the bullying,” Hunt said. “There’s not the negativity.”

“Working in groups, hands-on, fosters understanding, tolerance, and brings out their people skills,” she added.

— Erika Webb, erika@beacononlinenews.com 

Want to be an EMR?

DeLand High School’s Health Science Education program includes:

  • Medical Skills & Services in the ninth grade
  • Health Science 1, and Anatomy & Physiology in the 10th grade
  • Health Science 2, Foundations in the 11th grade
  • Emergency Medical Responder course in the 12th grade
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