Using Creativity to Build Relationships and Foster Student Success

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Whether we teach a specific subject or a specific grade, it is important to remember that we are teachers first. Students are our priority and we use different subjects as our foundation. We teach them about passion, life, and the truth of the real world. We nurture their curiosity and help them develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. We teach them to be leaders and to communicate. We make sure that we are building positive relationships with our students because we know that will speak volumes for the rest of their school year. Of course it is our goal to prepare our students for college and career but we also have to make sure that we are preparing them for life. We need to change our students’ mindset; college readiness is not just about doing well in class and earning good grades. It is important that students’ learning is focused around a skills-based curriculum.

As a biomedical science teacher, I enjoy introducing my students to real world skills that I know that they will use as they continue moving forward. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Healthcare (STEAM-H) education is active and focuses on a student-centered learning approach. STEAM-H is unique because the fields often build on each other. New knowledge leads to curiosity that then leads to research, discussion and innovations. Students engage in questioning, problem solving, collaboration, and hands-on activities while they address real life issues. Adding the art and design prepares our students with the skills necessary to continue into the 21st century and beyond.

Let me take you back to the beginning. In 2011 my daughter Briana (who happened to be in the 4th grade at the time), without me knowing, was making some real world and educational observations of her own. After months of sitting in the back of my classroom and doing what I believed at the time to be her homework, my daughter walked into the lab and said something that would forever change my outlook on what I taught and who I taught. “Mommy, it would be so cool to have a summer program that teaches us younger kids what you teach your high school kids! We would also get to learn more Science and Math and understand why we need this stuff. It would be so much fun!” Her idea planted a seed and I started to think, why couldn’t I start them earlier? Why can’t younger students be introduced to career readiness and career skills? By the time students reach fourth grade, a third of boys and girls have lost an interest in science. By eighth grade, almost 50 percent have lost interest or deemed it irrelevant to their education or future plans. At this point in the K–12 system, the STEM pipeline has narrowed to half. That means millions of students have tuned out or lack the confidence to believe they can do science (Murphy, 2011).

Scrub Club started as a pilot program in June 2012 with 55 up-and-coming 5th and 6th grade students. Scrub Club, a three-level program, introduced students to the world of healthcare using human body systems and crime scene investigations as the foundation and immerses the students in STEAM-H activities using real-life issues and problems. For example, in Level 1, students learn about the heart, they dissect the heart, learn CPR and have open Socratic discussions about health ailments involving the heart that have affected them on a personal level. In Level 2, Crime Scene Investigations, students are introduced to forensic anthropology as they come across a mock scene known as “The Deadly Picnic”. After learning about how bones can be used to help solve crimes students are put to the test as they study, measure and analyze a variety of bones such as the femur, pelvis and skull to identify a missing person. Students then immerse themselves in the field of facial reconstruction to learn how a skull can be used to “rebuild the identity” of a person.  Level 3 is an accumulation of everything that the students have learned in the first two levels of the program. Students learn more about college and career readiness as they focus on applicable skills. From DNA extraction, micro pipetting, and guest speakers, students continue to learn more about the skills needed in real world jobs in healthcare. Level 3 students immerse themselves in the world as a healthcare professional as they complete a forensic autopsy, perform vital signs on each other, and complete a certification course in CPR with AED and First Aid.

Over 1000 students in the Santa Fe Public Schools have participated in Scrub Club. Scrub Club is not your typical summer enrichment program as teen mentors and educators are the key to the program’s success. Although there are three highly qualified teachers on hand, these teen mentors, all who are a product of our high school medical pathway, are actually the teachers in these classrooms. It is exciting to watch these teens display their passion for something they really enjoy doing and passing their knowledge on to the younger generation. Although many of the teen mentors are continuing their studies to pursue their dreams in healthcare, a few of them have decided that they want to continue in education themselves. Some have decided to pursue a minor in education and maybe, just maybe, we have started another generation of teachers.

Scrub Club has taught my students, teen mentors, parents, and myself that we need to have a growth mindset. Success is about becoming smarter and stepping outside of our comfort zone and taking chances. It has taught us that learning can be rigorous as long as it is relevant and fun! Scrub Club has also taught us that building relationships is so important to student success. We have been blessed to be able to spend multiple summers with students and watch them grow as they move from one level to the next in the program. We have been able to watch our teen mentors grow and continue to share their passion. Today, we are enjoying our Scrub Club students as they begin to enter their high school years. From the original 55 students who helped me build this program, all of them are in high school and 42 are currently in our medical pathway. As for my daughter, now 16 years old, she is starting her senior year of high school (she will be graduating a year early) and is now a teen mentor in Scrub Club herself.


Stephanie Gurule-Leyba is in her 21st year of teaching at Santa Fe’s Capital High School, where she teaches medical sciences in the school’s Medical Sciences Academy, where she also serves as department Co-Chair. This Spring, Stephanie was named 2017 New Mexico Teacher of the Year by the state’s Public Education Department. To learn more about this program, you can visit the CCSSO website

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