Kristen Wynn tells students in the health science technology program at Akins High School that she wants them to go all in with the panel on the stage.
She asks them to stand up if they have lost someone with cancer or know someone who has or has ever had cancer. They all stand up.
She and the other panelists are here to help students work through some of the ways they can help someone with cancer, help take away some of the fear of cancer and answer students' questions.
Akins is one of four Austin Independent School District high schools piloting a program this fall from the Livestrong Cancer Institutes at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. The program takes curriculum originally developed as online educational material for kindergarten through 12th-grade students by the Livestrong Foundation and puts it into the health sciences curriculum. Eastside Memorial, LBJ and Anderson high schools also are piloting the program.
The pilot takes students through the process of diagnosis and treatment but also gives them tools to be empathetic and supportive of someone with cancer.
Wynn, a senior administrative associate at Livestrong Cancer Institutes, brought with her KK McCaslin, who oversees educational programs at Livestrong Foundation; Ryan Becerra, a cancer survivor; Mike Thompson, a cancer survivor and senior foundation officer at Baylor Scott & White Central Texas Foundation; and Nick Smith-Stanley, associate director of programs and education of Livestrong Cancer Institutes. They each talked about their own experiences with cancer — either having it themselves or working in and around it.
Students wanted to know what they can do if a friend or family member has cancer.
"No act of kindness is too small," McCaslin told the students. "You can help a cancer survivor by being there," she said.
"Be a good listener," Becerra said.
"Ask them, 'What can I do for you?'" said Smith-Stanley.
Because the students in Akins' health science technology program are interested in medicine and have the chance to graduate with a certified nursing assistant degree or a pharmacy tech, medical technician or an EMT (emergency medical technician) certification, they wanted to know about health careers.
Smith-Stanley talked to them about some of the research programs at Dell Medical School that high school students and college students can participate in, not just the medical school students.
Jennifer Ramirez said one of the things she learned from class and from the panel is "you can get through anything. It's given me a new perspective on things."
The students talked about one of the videos they saw earlier in the curriculum that showed a person their age getting a cancer diagnosis. "It's now something I think about," student Malintha Wanniarachchi said. "I could be battling cancer right now."
At Akins, they have been getting the Livestrong curriculum along with their other health curriculum and internships in the field. The pilot has made them think about doing a service project around cancer care.
Juanita Soto, who oversaw the program at Akins and has now moved up to the district level, said the conversations and the questions students are asking "and how much students have been engaged is really interesting," she says.
Wynn said all of the pilot programs have looked different, "but you can really take it to the next level."
Soto said ideally the program is bringing cancer awareness, but it also might pull some into thinking about cancer as a career.