New Opportunities for Small-Town Students

Kate Richmond is a science teacher and science department head at Greensburg Community High School in Greensburg, Indiana. Kate was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Ball State University. 

Teaching in a small, rural community has its challenges. For instance, many students come to high school thinking that farming and factory jobs are the ONLY opportunities available to them. Most don't realize that there are thousands of careers they can explore, many of those in the healthcare field.

One of my favorite parts of teaching PLTW is opening my students' eyes to career opportunities. No, healthcare isn't just doctors and nurses, much to their surprise! My students are constantly amazed, interested, and intrigued by the huge number of career paths in the healthcare field, from morgue assistants to blood-spatter technicians to pathologists. They learn about careers they never even knew existed, all while practicing real-life skills through labs and activities.

The hands-on element of PLTW courses is appealing to many students who are kinesthetic learners, but more than that – it makes a connection to the career opportunities we teach. Learning that a coroner or medical examiner is a possible career option is all well and good. But when a student is actively discovering the time of death of a dead body by using waterlock and the Glaister equation, that really drives home, "This is what a coroner or medical examiner really DOES every day!" It gives them the real-life experience of that career. I have had so many students react positively not only to the labs and activities, but also to the realization that yes, you can make a living doing these amazing and interesting jobs.

This is only my third year teaching PLTW, but already I am seeing a shift as my students learn about the opportunities available to them. And as the interest grows, so does our program. My first year, we barely had 45 students in the Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS) course. This year, I'm up to almost 100! I can't wait for the day when my former students start to return with proud degrees in bacteriology, forensics, cardiology, or toxicology. I know that PLTW is making a difference for each and every one of my students by showing them a world of careers they never even dreamed of.

One of my favorite Robert Frost quotes is a potent reminder for me every day I walk into the classroom: "I am not a teacher. I am an awakener." PLTW courses allow me to be that person, that awakener. I awaken my students' minds to possibilities and ideas they might not encounter otherwise. I challenge them to learn through practice and experimentation, trial and error. I stretch their understanding to new heights. And perhaps, if I persevere, I will be able to inspire their futures.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.