SUNDAY CONVERSATION: Teacher Michaelknight Zayas
NEW BRITAIN — The New Britain High School Health Academy is one of the school district’s success stories. The first of its kind in New England, it was founded in the fall of 2010 with 56 students. Today, it has 323 students. It also went from one course four years ago to 11 classes and — so impressed by its success — Manchester High School decided recently to build its own Health Academy after touring the one at NBHS.
The lead teacher for the academy is 30-year-old city native Michaelknight Zayas. A 2002 NBHS graduate, Zayas began teaching in the school’s biology department in 2006. In 2010, he was asked, along with two other teachers, to come up with the academy’s curriculum. Zayas is known around the school as one of the hardest working teachers and one of the academy’s biggest supporters.
Zayas personally teaches three of the 11 classes: bio medical innovations; health care science 1 (for freshman); and health care science 2 (for sophomores). One of the academy’s missions is to inspire students to choose a healthcare profession as their lifelong career pathway.
For Zayas, teaching biology was a lifelong dream. Teaching in the health academy is a passion for Zayas, the first in his family to go to college.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do (for a job) until my senior year in high school,” said Zayas, who graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2006 with a bachelors of science in education. “I wanted to be a biology teacher after my senior year because my biology teacher (Rob Ramsey) was really cool.” Not many students get to work with their favorite teacher, but Zayas now works in the same department as Ramsey, who he says “is just as good a colleague as he teaches in class.”
For Zayas — one of seven health academy teachers — watching his students become future nurses, emergency medical technicians, dental hygienists and physician assistants, among others, makes it all worth it.
“My favorite part of the health academy and being a teacher is the ability to expose students to their future careers and the excitement when they get their first-hand experience of what it’s really like, like vising a hospital on a field trip, for example,” he said in a recent interview at the high school.
The average health academy student, he said, takes three to four courses. The most popular class is the certified nurses assistant class, he said.
“The CNA is popular because it gives kids job shadowing experience at hospitals and convalescent homes and they can get certified in high school after passing their CNA exam,” Zayas said of the 40 students enrolled in the class.
Zayas recently sat down to discuss the academy and its big graduation May 29, among other topics.
Robert Storace: Tell us about the May 29 health academy graduation and why that is such an important event for the students?
Michaelknight Zayas: It’s the first group of seniors graduating who have taken all four Project Lead the Way (curriculum for honors students including the human body system and medical interventions) courses. It’s also our CNA graduation this year. We are recognizing these students for their commitment to staying in the program throughout their high school career. We hand out academic cords to students that have taken three health academy courses and had an 80 average or above in all three courses.
Storace: What is the most gratifying part of being associated with the academy?
Zayas: For me, personally, it’ seeing them as freshman and some of them having no idea what they wanted to do. But, then, having them as seniors with a clear path to their career choice is evident that what we are doing is right.
Storace: Where do you want to see the academy progress 10 years from now?
Zayas: Ten years from now it would be really cool if we had exploratory courses offered at the middle and elementary school levels. It would help with the retention of New Britain residents and students.
Robert Storace can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 223, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.