SLVAHEC teaches students to teach students


ALAMOSA — The value of an inspired pupil cannot be understated. Trinidad State Junior College (TSJC) and San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center (SLVAHEC) both know it.

That’s why the two partnered together for TSJC’s College for Kids program, which exposes 7 to 11 year olds to various career paths. Throughout Thursday the kids learned about oral hygiene, the human body and how to make soap. They even got a visit from both an ambulance and medical helicopter.

“It’s great that the community came together,” said SLVAHEC Program Coordinator Lisa Lucero. “There’s definitely a need for something like this.”

Yet rather than SLVAHEC teaching the kids themselves they utilized participants of the Summer Health Careers Institute, a “Grow Your Own” program that aims to get high school students interested in the medical field.

Stefan Guillen, 10, puts his hand under a black light held by Hailey Dennis so that she and Megan Perez, right, can see how well he washed his hands at Trinidad State Junior College’ College for Kids program on Thursday. Perez is studying medicine in Denver while Dennis is participating in the Summer Health Careers Institute.

The two-week program involves hands-on activities such as learning how to suture and shadowing doctors. Since College for Kids has never been at the Alamosa campus before, this summer was the first time the learning students had the opportunity to take their turn at inspiring others.

Helping out in the morning session was Hailey Dennis, 17, an incoming senior at Alamosa High School. Dennis, who is interested in becoming a pediatrician, taught the kids about the skeletal system.

“I like working with kids,” said Dennis. “They’re funny and have really interesting ideas. Just hanging out with them is really great.

“It’s interesting to see their take on it because at their age I wasn’t even thinking about the human body. To see them engage and learn is really fascinating.”

Dennis is already admitted to the University Colorado Denver and hopes to be accepted into the school’s pipeline program for their Anschutz Medical Campus.

“I always believe there could be more rural doctors,” Dennis said, “and the rural areas could really use more trained physicians who understand the needs for a rural community.”

Megan Perez, an alumnus of the SLVAHEC program, is living proof that it worked. A graduate of Del Norte High School, Perez returned to the Valley this month for a rotation at Rio Grande Hospital before her second year of medical school at Anschutz. Though rotations are typically reserved for third-year students, her participation in the school’s rural medicine track allowed her to preview the experience.

Demarcos Gutierrez, 6, creates a rhinovirus out of clay in Trinidad State Junior College’ College for Kids program on Thursday. In the afternoon the kids learned about how their immune system battles viruses and bacteria.

Perez, 23, did the Summer Careers Institute after her sophomore year in high school. The shadowing portion had the biggest impact on her desire to enroll at CU Denver to become a surgeon.

“That first day in the operating room was just magical,” Perez said. “I didn’t know anatomy so I was really intrigued by it and hooked from then on.”

She spent her Thursday afternoon at TSJC teaching the kids about the immune system with Dennis.

“To expose kids at an early age to get them interested in science and healthcare is super important,” said Perez. “It’s cool they got the opportunity to do this. Hopefully they’ll keep being in these programs so that they become a health care provider and come back to serve the community.”

Caption above: Dorian Quintana, 9, plays with a handful of slime at Trinidad State Junior College’ College for Kids program on Thursday. The slime activity was part of a workshop on mucus.