Students ‘cutting up’ at Sherman Thomas STEM Academy

jamie brock photo While students in Sherman Thomas STEM Academy’s exploration class look on, a surgical team from Valley Children’s Hospital perform a mock open appendectomy. Afterwards, students “gowned up” with gloves, caps, gowns, and surgical masks to get a feel for the real thing.


With a patient on the operating table, the surgical team from Valley Children’s Hospital performed an open appendectomy, as a group of teenagers from Sherman Thomas Charter School’s STEM Academy looked on.

Surgical technologist Melissa Nassar worked methodically through the surgery and was fully focused even though she had been up all night. Her colleagues Maira Quinonez and Bernadette Zapata worked with her, coordinating their efforts with the skill of Harley Street physicians.

The true-to-life simulation was one of Sherman Thomas STEM Academy’s regular Friday explorations in which the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students “get their hands dirty” with various STEM related projects.

The day began with the arrival of the two surgical technicians and a registered nurse from Valley Children’s.

Nassar gave a presentation called “Dissecting Surgery.” She gave a brief overview of what surgery is, the Hippocratic Oath, the different career options associated with surgery, and the education required to work in one of those positions.

After the power point presentation, the surgical team went to work. They prepped the patient (a CPR manikin from Valley Children’s), intubated, scrubbed and did the surgery, using all of the actual vocabulary.

As the operation was concluding, the team gave the surgery a dose of reality by discussing what was next on the schedule, who was being prepped, and who needed to go share with the patient’s family. From beginning to end, it was a real experience, right down to the beeping monitors in the background.

After the demonstration was over, the students had a chance to ask questions and then they were each given a gown, cap, gloves, and a mask to get the feel of the operating room.

Students enrolled in Sherman Thomas STEM Academy have longer school days Monday through Thursday so that they can explore science, technology, engineering, and math projects on Friday.

Sherman Thomas STEM Academy opened its doors in 2017, and it promises to add significantly to the charter school’s offerings.

Its curriculum will embrace one of the most critical educational needs of the nation: more students trained in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The U.S. Department of Education says that by 2020, the workforce will add over one million jobs in these fields, and the country is not producing enough candidates to fill them.

Thus, there is a push in education to correct this imbalance, and Sherman Thomas STEM Academy has stepped up to the plate with its plan.

Students in the new program attend classes from 8:00 to 3:30 on Monday through Thursday. They take courses that deal with scientific, technological, and informational literacy as well as the traditional “basics.”

On Friday, the day runs from 8:00 to noon, and the kids conduct their “exploration” projects.

The Sherman Thomas STEM Academy, by serving grades 6-8, becomes a “true” middle school and provides one more example for surrounding districts to consider as they build new elementary schools.

The STEM Academy is one of the triad of schools under the Sherman Thomas Charter School umbrella, which also houses the original STCS K-8 classes and the Sherman Thomas High School.