Sweet Home high school, COMP-NW students collaborate in program

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era
Juniors and seniors in Michelle Snyder’s anatomy and physiology class at Sweet Home High School have been learning not just from their teacher but from other students like themselves – ones, however, with a bit more experience, from the Western University of Health Science’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific – Northwest, in Lebanon.
The “medical student to high school student healthy lifestyles mentoring program” is in its second year in Sweet Home, but this was its first as part of the curriculum in an actual credited course. Last year, Snyder promoted the program as an “after-school project” with six participants. Now the mentoring takes place one day a week in a class that featured 16 students last semester and 23 in the current one.
On mentoring days, Sweet Home students take their Chromebooks to Linn-Benton Community College’s Sweet Home Center, which is attached to the school, for lessons from two different COMP-NW students every week. Then they break off into a number of more individualized “breakout rooms,” with two COMP-Northwest and Sweet Home students paired in each group. Topics have included the brain, physical fitness and COVID-19 vaccines.
“I let the medical students know what units we are working on, and even if the lesson doesn’t match up it typically relates to something we have studied at some point,” Snyder said. “It relates to the kids’ lives even if it’s not in the curriculum at that particular moment.”
The COVID-19 vaccine sessions were born of student interest.
“We did a survey, and a lot of students said, ‘I want to understand the vaccine,'” Synder said. “It wasn’t pushing the vaccine, it was more ‘Here’s how it was developed; here’s how it works. We talked about how you need to check your source; you can’t just check Facebook.”
Snyder estimated that about 50% of the students in her class plan on working in the medical field after high school.
“For those of my students that are planning on going into the medical field, [the mentoring program is] really positive for them,” she said. “On the other hand, for some of my students that are just kind of taking my class for the science credit, it’s just a thing we do. But they still are interacting with college students and still learn something about the college experience. It’s a positive interaction overall.”
She said that while such work has always been accessible for Sweet Home students, “My classes, along with this mentoring program, make it seem like more of an option for them. Some students never knew all of the options they had, and this is opening up some of those options.”
Community Health Committee member Larry Horton, who was instrumental in helping to set up the program, agreed.
“Kids in Sweet Home far too often don’t think they can go on to college,” he said. “Because of the environment they live in or whatever reason, they don’t think about going to it. But this has allowed people to think about moving on to higher education.”
Even last year, with the smaller number of participants, students were engaged, according to WesternU Oregon Associate Vice President Di Lacey.
“A couple of them would get in their cars and sit outside a business to get internet,” Lacey said. “High school students usually don’t do that.”
Snyder recalled two students last year who were highly impacted by their mentors: Maren Weld, who is currently attending nursing school in North Dakota, and Natalie Chase, who’s studying nursing at Linfield College.
Even though more youth are taking part this year, instruction is still conducted via Zoom, which Snyder lamented. “It’s not as interactive, not the same as face-to-face interactions would be,” she said.
She mentioned, however, that COMP-Northwest has “just lightened up,” presenting the possibility of a pizza gathering in May.
The mentorship program was born in 2018 when COMP-Northwest partnered with the City of Sweet Home and Samaritan Health Services to poll Sweet Home residents about possibilities for community health. One of the responses was a mentoring program, and COMP-Northwest students and staff, in alliance with the MIKE program – a Portland-based nonprofit formed to “educate and mentor underserved students to lead healthy lives personally, in their school community” – worked to make it a reality.
“This partnership with the MIKE Program and Sweet Home High School is highly impactful. It has been incredible to watch the growth of our medical students in this near-to-peer health education and mentoring program,” Lacey said. “They learn leadership skills, program development, community engagement, health coaching, and most importantly, how to authentically connect with people who have different lived experiences. These are the skills they can’t Google, the skills they need to become exceptional future physicians.”

Madeleine Duncan

COMP-NW student Madeleine Duncan recently received the United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award for helping to establish the mentoring program in Sweet Home.
“Having this opportunity gave me the unique ability to improve my collaboration skills, teaching skills, and advocacy skills, all of which are vitally important when seeing patients,” she said. “As future physicians, my colleagues and I need to understand the importance of knowing our patients as well as treating them with genuine compassion and respect.
“There are so many factors that play a role in health, and medicine is only one small part. Each of us can lead by example and encourage our co-workers in healthcare to recognize the social determinants of health and treat the entirety of each person. I cannot say thank you enough to Sweet Home, the MIKE program, COMP-NW, my team of mentors, and our wonderful high school students, for trusting me to help grow and lead this program.”