Like many, Sophia Goldberg’s parents moved to Plainsboro in part because of the excellent reputation of the local public schools. What mother Holly, a nurse at Princeton Day School, and father Daniel, a self-employed patent lawyer, did not realize is that ultimately both Sophia and her older sister, Pamela, would attend schools outside of the district.
“It just ended up not being the right environment,” said Sophia Goldberg, who is a rising senior at the Mercer County Technical Schools Health Science Academy.
The Health Science Academy is a full-time, four-year high school program that prepares students for careers in the field of the healthcare. It meets at the Assunpink Center, a facility adjacent to Mercer County Community College on Old Trenton Road in West Windsor.
The program, which graduated its first class in June, was created after Department of Labor data indicated an increased demand for qualified healthcare employees in Mercer County.
“Using the data, we created a program that would serve the needs of the community,” said Kimberly Schneider, the superintendent of Mercer County Technical Schools.
High school students in every district in the county are eligible to attend the Health Science Academy. Because the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District has students from both Mercer and Middlesex counties, students who live in the district can apply to either county’s career and technical education programs.
While the other programs at Mercer County Technical Schools are only open to upperclassmen who also continue to take their core subjects at their home high schools, the Health Science Academy functions as a magnet school specializing in medical and biological science.
The program gives students the chance to study science intensely. Courses that might not be offered at a regular high school, such as molecular biology, anatomy and physiology, and organic chemistry, are available. In the laboratory students have the opportunity to use high-tech equipment like spectrometers, electron microscopes, and 3-D printers.
Additionally, the Health Science Academy offers unique classes like Dynamics of Healthcare, a course that introduces students to basic principles, techniques, and vocabulary common in the medical field. The course also educates students about different career opportunities within the healthcare industry including nursing, therapy, dental care, administrative services, and lab technology.
In addition to offering specialized courses on the subject, health science is a theme that spans the entire curriculum at the Health Science Academy. “We embed a medical literacy or medical technology component into all of their activities,” said Schneider.
Potential students apply to the program in the fall of eighth grade, meaning they must decide to start specializing their education at a relatively early age.
“I think for some students, maybe they would prefer more experience in a generalized setting, but I do believe there are some students who find out quite early what they love to do best,” said Schneider. “I believe we appeal to those types of students.”
Goldberg became interested in the Health Science Academy both because of its size and because she intended to pursue a career in psychology.
She explained that because the school was smaller, she had “more of an opportunity to have success. I tend to get lost in a crowd.”
Goldberg has been interested in psychology since she heard a psychologist speak at a career day presentation when she was in sixth grade. She was also influenced by having a family member with special needs. “That can sometimes be hard, and I want to help,” she said.
Going to the Health Science Academy has allowed Goldberg to tailor her education to suit her interests. Students in the program who excel academically have the option of taking classes at Mercer County Community College and earn college credit as early as their junior year of high school. Goldberg will take advantage of that opportunity to take an introductory psychology class this fall.
Additionally, seniors at the Health Science Academy are required to complete a 160-hour internship, which gives the students field experience working with healthcare personnel throughout the community.
Goldberg’s internship will be at the Cambridge School, a private school in Pennington where Goldberg herself attended middle school. She will be working with the guidance counselor and interacting with the students on a weekly basis. The Health Science Academy was “able to adapt to suit my desires, and I think that’s fantastic,” she said.
Goldberg’s interest in helping those with special needs extends to her extracurricular activities. She volunteers regularly with the Friendship Circle, a Jewish organization focused on support and assistance for people with special needs.
She is also working on creating a simple kosher cookbook for special needs adults for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. The project consists of finding, testing, and simplifying recipes, explaining the dietary requirements of keeping kosher, and researching and describing the different kosher certification symbols.
“A lot of Jewish adults in the special needs community don’t know how to cook or have caretakers who don’t know how to make kosher foods for them, even if they want to eat kosher. It’s a chance for them or their caretakers to learn cooking and different kosher symbols and explain what they each mean,” said Goldberg.
She also recently received the annual Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Award sponsored by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, the Mercer County Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center in West Windsor, and the Kidsbridge Tolerance Museum in Ewing.
Additionally, Goldberg takes voice and piano lessons and plays in the band and sings in the choir at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington.
Goldberg is still deciding which colleges to apply to, but she remains interested in studying psychology and working with adolescents. She also hopes to do research on the younger siblings of children diagnosed with special needs.
Schneider said that by going to the Health Science Academy students “gain a community of staff, students, adults, and parents who support their interest.”
“We love career and technical education because we watch students transition into a career setting they are passionate about,” she said. “They live in the community, they work in the community, they take care of us.”