Saturday Academy opens doors to area students

Area high school and middle school students take part in the School of Medicine's Saturday Academy pipeline program.
Area high school and middle school students take part in the School of Medicine’s Saturday Academy pipeline program. Visit our Facebook page for more photos.

A steady stream of Kansas City area middle school and high school students flows into the UMKC School of Medicine each fall for a program that can help pave their way to potential careers in health care. Kenneth Beene serves as the coordinator for the School’s pipeline program known as Saturday Academy, a seven-month enrichment program that kicked off a new session in October.

Now in his eighth year as coordinator of the School’s Saturday Academy and Summer Scholars pipeline programs, Beene knows the benefit to bright, motivated students who might otherwise miss out.

“I’ve seen students start out in the Saturday Academy program in seventh or eighth grade, continue in high school and go into a health profession,” Beene said. “I’ve seen them go to into other health services programs and some are in our own BA/MD program.”

Coordinated by the School of Medicine Office of Diversity and Community Partnership, Saturday Academy is a free program that runs from October and through April and each Saturday provides students in grades six through 12 with two and a half hours of classes that focus on math and science as well as ACT prep. Course instructors are faculty from UMKC and certified, advanced teachers from Kansas City area school districts.

More than 100 students, nearly equally split between middle school and high school age, are enrolled this year, Beene said. That’s up from the 30 to 40 students who took part when the School’s former director and associate dean for minority affairs, Reaner Shannon, Ph.D., started the program nearly 20 years ago.

Instructors lead students through curriculums in human biology, chemistry, physics and math as well as topics such as medical terminology and verbal reasoning. Medical students even act as tutors, providing help with math homework for younger students who need it.

A new element this year, Beene said, will be to have a monthly health care component in which professionals from different fields such as pharmacy, physician assistants, even medical students talk to the students about their particular area of health care.

“We have an array of methods and strategies for teaching,” Beene said. “We try to make the curriculum challenging for the students.”

There are even parent workshops offered once or twice a month on how to keep children engaged and motived in their studies.

Beene said that while not every student who participates in one of the School’s enrichment programs will wind up going to medical school, they do come away with other benefits.

“What I’ve found out is that the students who go through our programs, Saturday Academy or Summer Scholars, have a stronger self confidence,” Beene said. “They feel they can attain their career goals in health care.”