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Dome - A Teaching Moment for Youngsters—and Guest Mentors

Dome January 2013

A Teaching Moment for Youngsters—and Guest Mentors

Date: January 4, 2013

Remember a fourth-grade teacher who instilled a love of books? Or a museum field trip that opened your eyes to art? Chances are that such early childhood school experiences led you to see the world a little differently. At the same time—as many teachers can attest—the opportunity to touch a child’s heart and mind offers profound rewards.

That’s precisely the message Sue Bergamy-Willinger wants to convey about the Adopt-A-Class/Career Day Program. Launched 10 years ago, the Hopkins Health System project recruits staff to help raise awareness in classrooms around East Baltimore about careers in health care.

It all started, says the hospital and health system career coach, with an idea “to reach out to our community, provide a positive experience for young children—and hopefully plant a seed for a future in health care.” Students are always surprised, she adds, to learn that there are hundreds of health care professions to which they might aspire. And volunteer speakers from Hopkins offer these kids a peek into many of them.

Over the years, Adopt-A-Class has grown to include three local elementary schools—Tench Tilghman, City Springs, and Inner Harbor East Academy. From October through March, for about an hour each month, volunteer mentors visit classrooms and describe the breadth of hospital careers—and how students can succeed on the path to these or any other jobs. The program culminates with a visit to Hopkins Hospital for tours and hands-on activities.

Bergamy-Willinger, who’s been at the forefront of the program since its debut, says the kids’ excitement is palpable. But the impact on the volunteer teachers also runs deep. “We have phenomenal employees whose plates are already full,” she says, “but they make the time, and they do it enthusiastically. They get more and more creative.”

Hopkins employees aren’t the only ones singing Adopt-A-Class’ praises. “It’s been a wonderful partnership,” says Tench Tilghman principal Jael Yon. “There’s never enough classroom time to explain hand hygiene, healthy eating and goal-setting. The Hopkins speakers are always knowledgeable, respectful and supportive of the curriculum.” Adds Tench Tilghman program coordinator Jodi Duffi, “They’re meeting people they don’t see in their everyday lives and writing in their journals about what intrigues them.”

 Grabbing several photo albums from her shelf, Bergamy-Willinger shows off dozens of rapt 9- and 10-year-olds with whom Hopkins Hospital volunteers have connected over the years. In one set of photos, trauma surgeon and Adopt-A-Class veteran Albert Chi shares his path to medicine and explains his work with amputees. Several shots show a patient he brings along, demonstrating his new prosthetic arm.

In site-visit photos, kids try out stethoscopes, while others practice cradling doll-babies in the Simulation Lab. “They love these visits so much,” says Bergamy-Willinger. At the beginning of the school year, the teachers sometimes call her before she has the chance to call them. “They can’t wait to have the volunteers come back.”

—Judy F. Minkove


Adopt-A-Class by the Numbers

3 elementary schools

4 fourth-grade classes

3 to 4 mentors per class

250+ careers in health care

100+ kids who participate per year

10,000 kids who have participated since 2002