By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Budding doctors, some as young as 12 years old, presented research on everything from congenital heart defects to asthma at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, L.I. as part of the School District 26 Junior Fellows Program culmination ceremony earlier this month.
The program is a partnership among the district, the hospital and the New York Academy of Medicine in which middle-school students use the academy's database to research medical topics and publish their own reports on how best to treat a specific disease.
“They almost always pick a topic that has some personal relevance,” said Judy Intraub, science and health education coordinator for District 26, who helped come up with the program in 1996 as a way to foster deeper understanding of scientific research among the children.
With the assistance of academy librarians, the precocious youngsters sift through studies published in books and medical journals. They then present their findings in front of an audience of health professionals at the academy in Manhattan, prepare creative projects and perform a community service having to do with their topic, Intraub said.
Each of the district's five middle schools sends five students through the program in which they take tours of North Shore Hospital and receive lectures and mentoring from young physician residents.
District 26 is comprised of schools in Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Little Neck, Douglaston, Auburndale, Hollis Hills and Glen Oaks, as well as parts of Flushing Bellerose, Floral Park and Fresh Meadows.
Floral Park resident Benson George, a seventh-grader at MS 172 in Bayside, built a large clay model of the human heart as part of his project on atrial septal defect, a hole between the walls of the heart.
His poster board compared different treatments for the condition, which is present at birth.
“Cardiac catheterization is the best treatment,” said George with authority, because it is less expensive and risky than heart surgery.
“I want to be a cardiologist,” he said. “My brother had this disease.”
Kathie Chang, an eighth-grader at MS 158 in Bayside, wanted to know what had made the difference in treating her godbrother's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Was it the medication or behavior modification that allowed him to lead a normal life?
“I used to think it was just drugging the children,” said Chang of the practice of medicating children such as her godbrother. “I used to be on that side of the debate. But now I know it works and it's effective.”
Chang made a painting of several boys and girls afflicted with ADHD, their facial expressions demonstrating the various symptoms of the disorder, from hyperactivity to daydreaming.
“My principal saw it, and he wants to display it in the hallway,” Chang said.
Helen Hatzignatiou, who teaches Regents' earth science and biology at MS 67 in Little Neck, said the program made her students more interested in the sciences.
“It's helped them budget their time … and made them become better speakers,” she said.
Incha Kim, first vice president of the District 26 school board, said she did not know for certain whether the program would continue after the district is eliminated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's restructuring plan.
“We hope this program will definitely continue,” said Kim, who made the rounds of student projects at the ceremony. “So many people support this and everyone knows it's such a wonderful program.”
Dr. Kevin Kasych, one of the resident mentors, called the program “a great opportunity to work with young minds and see how they can impress you, and they obviously did.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.