Redefining School: How an Early College High School Could Open Doors to Medicine

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Richard Sherin

A medical school professor and a high school principal are working to address a stubborn statistic that both believe must change. In 2020, of the 336 Missourians admitted to medical schools, only 16 were Black/African American, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. And just seven were Latin or hispanic.

The lack of diversity within the medical field is a generations-old problem that continues to hurt communities of color. It’s a national issue. But Collin Hitt, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, believes that launching an early college high school In St. Louis would open up medical jobs in the region to students who historically have been excluded.

He’s working with Richard Sherin, whose 18-year career in education includes leading innovative schools in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Sherin studied chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received his master’s degree in education from the University of Maryland, and earned his administration and supervision certifications from Johns Hopkins University.

Sherin now leads the work to launch St. Louis’s first open-enrollment early college high school, with a focus on health science.

Collin Hitt

“This would be a school that will work with kids and their families to explore health care careers as a means to address poverty and injustice,” Sherin said.

Over the summer, The Opportunity Trust named Sherin as one of its four Entrepreneur-In-Residence fellows to engage the St. Louis community, the health industry, and local universities in designing the school.

In September, Sherin was meeting with representatives from Saint Louis Community College and Saint Louis University (SLU), and will be expanding these conversations throughout the fall to engage with parents and the greater St. Louis community. If an early college high school were to open in 2023, a lot must happen first.

“This represents a great opportunity for a public school to support a talent pipeline to medical careers at all levels,” said Gary Ritter, dean of SLU’s School of Education, who helped bring various players together over the past year. “We want to employ the effective components from the early college high school concept to prepare students from our city to enter St. Louis’s thriving healthcare sector.”

What is an early college high school?

Early college high schools allow students to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree, or up to two years of college credit, tuition-free. They work in partnership with a college or university to reduce barriers to college access. In most cases, the high school is part of the university campus.

Hitt is inspired by early college high schools he’s visited in New York and North Carolina. IBM has a network of early college high schools called P-TECH that serve as a school-to-work pipeline for the fast-growing tech field.

“This is something that is really working and something we should be able to pull off in health care,” Hitt said.

Currently, no public school in St. Louis is focused on a wide range of health careers. Clyde C. Miller Career Academy is a selective magnet school in St. Louis Public Schools that allows students to earn a certified nurse assistant certificate (CNA). Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience is also a selective magnet school in the district. It emphasizes physician careers, Advanced Placement courses and internships, but does not offer associates degrees nor 60 hours of college credit.

An early college high school could operate as a charter school or as an autonomous district school within St. Louis Public Schools.

“You have the opportunity for a single program to have a large impact on the diversity of an entire state’s medical profession,” Hitt said.

But first, Sherin must build the partnerships and tap into the colleges and universities whose collaboration is essential for any such school to work, much less launch.

“Our dream is to inspire kids and families in St. Louis,” Sherin said. “Kids in St. Louis could go to college right here, and we’d have networks that could provide mentoring, internships, and jobs. All students would have a potential pathway to success that would never take them away from home.”

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