At Little Medical School, students from kindergarten through 12th grade begin preparing for a future in health care through interactive activities. The STEM-based enrichment program offers a range of courses written by certified physicians and educators that include “little doctor school,” “little nursing school,” “wilderness medical school,” “little veterinarian school,” and more.
Little Medical School is an international franchise with a location in McAllen, which offers after school lessons, summer camp, spring break workshops, and more. The organization operates year-round and the classes are taught at a variety of schools.
Program Coordinator Angela Villarreal, known to the students as “Teacher V,” said the purpose of the school is to “plant the seed” of the medical field into the children. She and the instructors refer to the program as “edutainment,” or educational entertainment.
“All this stuff they’re learning they’re able to take outside of the classroom,” she said. “Right now is the time we want them to be intrigued and having fun, because once they get into medical school, it’s time to buckle down and be serious.”
Villarreal taught in private and public schools for nine years before joining Little Medical School. She said it’s great for students to be involved in an after-school program — whether it’s dance, martial arts, music, or Little Medical School — because it gets them to use different parts of their brain.
“A student’s day is very repetitious. Their schedule is the exact same schedule they’ll have all semester long,” she said. “So taking an enrichment program that’s interactive and that doesn’t require you to stay in your seat — they can laugh and have fun — is fantastic.”
According to Villarreal, more than 400 students were enrolled in the fall 2019 semester. She adds the instructors undergo extensive training and many are medical students themselves at the UTRGV School of Medicine. The student to instructor ratio is around 15-to-1 and a new lesson is taught each class session, which could be the different systems of the body, CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, or how to treat a sprained ankle, to name a few.
In addition to preparing the students for a career in medicine, she said the program helps boost their social skills and cognitive development. To keep their children interested in learning, Villarreal urges parents to continue engaging with them after the lesson.
“I think the best encouraging thing is to ask your child, ‘what did you learn?’ and even go home and practice it,” she said. “You can practice on a teddy bear and let your child show you what they learned. Or if they’re an older student give them some scenarios and say, ‘how would you be able to help that person?’ Continue that higher order thinking.”
As for pre-K children, she said the best way to prepare them to thrive in school and in life is to just talk and play with them.
“Parents are the number one enrichment any child can get at that age,” she said. “Time goes by very, very quickly and before you know it, they’re in school full time and then they graduate and leave. While they’re little, have as much of them as possible and take advantage of it.”
Although Little Medical School aims to get children interested in becoming doctors, nurses, veterinarians, dentists, and other medical occupations, Villarreal said if they decide to pursue a different career after all, the takeaway lesson is that they can do anything they set their mind to.
She explained when children are very young and are asked what they want to be, they’ll often reply with “princess” or “Olympic gold medalist.” As they get older, she said the aspirations of children in low-income households tend to change dramatically. Rather than aiming to be president or an astronaut, they aim for careers that do not require post high school education.
“You see that a lot in the RGV,” she said. “So what we’re trying to encourage here is for them to maintain that princess and president status from when they’re young all the way to high school.
“Because if you want to be president of the United States, you just have to love politics and be engaged in what you’re doing and have that perseverance. Our whole job is to encourage them and say, ‘you just gotta love what you’re doing and you can get there most definitely.’”
For more information on the programs available, visit littlemedicalschool.com/rgv.