Summer Program Brings Biomedical Science to More Traditionally Underrepresented Students

Stephanie Gurule-Leyba is a PLTW Launch, PLTW Gateway, and PLTW Biomedical Science teacher and the founder and director of Scrub Club, a STEAM summer enrichment program. She is the 2017 New Mexico Teacher of the Year and is currently a middle school biomedical sciences career exploration teacher in the Santa Fe Public Schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hi there! I’m Stephanie Gurule-Leyba, and I AM PLTW!

Many of my professional successes are because of PLTW and what it offers me.  And when I say teachers, I mean ALL teachers. The APB (activity-, project-, and problem-based) pedagogy built into all aspects of the PLTW curriculum makes it easy for teachers to integrate core subjects into everything they teach.

I have been teaching for over 25 years, and half of those as a PLTW teacher. I taught high school for 22 years, and the remaining have been elementary and middle school. Actually, because of Scrub Club, I decided to move out of high school and start my new adventures. I am certified to teach all four of the PLTW Biomedical Science courses, PLTW Gateway Medical Detectives and Design and Modeling, and PLTW Launch.

Although PLTW is designed for a traditional school year, I leaped to use the curriculum to provide summer enrichment to those students in my community who do not have access to PLTW programming. Also, working in a minority-majority state, we must introduce our students to the biomedical sciences. Many of my students do not have role models in these areas, so providing them with these opportunities is critical to visualize themselves in the biomedical sciences. I also bring back some of my past students who are now working in these areas to be guest speakers in Scrub Club. My goal is to recruit more of our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students as well as boys in the biomedical sciences.

What is the Scrub Club program?

Scrub Club is a summer enrichment program for incoming 4th through 8th grade students. Scrub Club uses the foundation of biomedical science to engage and interest students (especially BIPOC and males) in the biomedical sciences and healthcare. Scrub Club started in 2012 with 55 students and has grown to serve over 225 students each summer (except for last and this summer due to the pandemic). Students gain knowledge using APB learning in a fun and interactive environment. Scrub Club also involves teen mentors (or camp counselors, as the students call them) who are a part of the high school PLTW Biomedical Science program. Students complete a different unit each year in the program. Some of my students have just started their 4th or 5th year with me.

PLTW and the Scrub Club program

PLTW Launch and the PLTW Gateway Medical Detectives unit both support the Scrub Club program. However, before PLTW Launch and PLTW Gateway, the APB pedagogy success was the theory behind Scrub Club. As a PLTW BMS teacher, PLTW has always been the backbone of our Scrub Club. Many of the initial activities were derived from the kids’ input and what they wanted to learn. The students even helped develop the three levels that Scrub Club used to follow.

When Scrub Club started ten years ago, PLTW Launch and Medical Detectives were not part of the equation. Since PLTW is standards-driven, I made some changes to the high school activities and projects to make them “middle school friendly.” The kids love the activities and projects. The introduction of PLTW Launch and Medical Detectives helped me “freshen” the student units and bring new ideas to the program.

Past Scrub Club participants continuing in biomedical science

Many of the students that have completed Scrub Club are now in college or career. When my first group (the Original 55) first started with me, most of them finished 5th grade. Many are in nursing programs or majoring in a STEM area. Some took advantage of certification programs as dual credit in high school and are now working in the healthcare industry.

I have two students who are currently in the University of New Mexico (UNM) BA/MD program. Students accepted to the BA/MD earn a full-ride scholarship to complete an accelerated bachelor’s program with automatic admission to UNM’s Medical School once achieving the designated MCAT score.

Who is PLTW for?

You do not have to be a “science teacher” to be a PLTW teacher. PLTW is for EVERYONE! The integration and real-world experiences that PLTW brings to the classroom are invaluable. We have the habit of focusing on subjects as “silos.” The APB model is a great way to integrate core subjects into one problem. This way, students can understand the “why” for learning.

Some people believe that the PLTW curriculum is “boxed.” I’m here to say that it is far from that. I have modified and changed activities and projects to help my students better. I’ve also introduced new real-world problems and added culturally relevant topics to the units and modules.

PLTW Launch during the school year

After completing 22 years as a high school teacher and teaching PLTW Biomedical Science courses, Scrub Club taught me that our younger students want more career exploration opportunities. They thrive on it. I knew that PLTW Launch would be a considerable contribution to Scrub Club. I took part in the PLTW Launch training to get to see the curriculum and use the biomedical science pieces to enhance Scrub Club. My goal is to showcase PLTW Launch during Scrub Club to hope that my school district will want to incorporate more of the program into the elementary schools.

Currently, I am the only teacher in Scrub Club because of the pandemic. What the students are doing in class is turning heads, though. The vocabulary that the kids are learning and using during their breaks and lunchtime fascinates those listening. The kids are sharing what they are learning with their families and others in their community. The word is getting out. My goal is to promote PLTW Launch to the school district with the hope that it will gain more momentum.

My a-ha moments with Scrub Club and PLTW

There have been many “aha moments” in the past ten years. A few days ago, my two younger groups (4th/5th and 6th grades) had their first “aha moment” with the anatomy/physiology of the brain. I am using the PLTW Launch module Input/Output: Human Brain for these two groups. I introduced my students to a pair of golden doodles that are diagnosed with cerebellar hypoplasia. As we began studying the brain, many of the students jumped up and down with joy when they realized that the part of the brain that is affected by this neurological condition is the cerebellum. They were anxious to do more research and figure out the “why!” They are now brainstorming ideas (the inquiry process) on how they can help these two doodles become more independent. They are so excited!

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