The following was originally published in the Sun Community News.

By Shaundra Bartlett

TICONDEROGA | Behind facial masks, multiple sets of eyes meticulously pulled thread and needles with mint green gloves hands through the delicate skin of their subjects, focusing intently on executing the perfect running suture to close up the two-inch long cut on the victims. The concentration in the room of the UVM Health Network-Elizabethtown Community Hospital Ticonderoga Campus was palpable, the gravity of proper suturing techniques not lost on any of the “interns.”

“I’ve never operated on a hot dog before,” one young voice proclaimed, breaking the silence. Indeed, it was true. The group of surgeons was in fact comprised of second and third-grade students from Moriah Central School, learning about stitches and using hot dogs as their training tools.

“This is part of a one-week STEM camp at Moriah Central School,” said Tiffany Pinheiro, Moriah science teacher and STEM Program Head. “Each day we try to target a different type of science. We are trying to get kids excited about science at a really young age and to learn different types and aspects. The visit to the Ticonderoga Campus punctuates a week of field trips and daily learning.”

The hospital welcomed the exuberant group of 24 students, equipping them with hospital ID tags and had them participate in the new “Doctor for the Day” event. The other scheduled sessions included “Healthy Hands- Importance of Hand Hygiene,” “Teddy is Broken- Applying a Cast to a Teddy Bear,” “Fire Safety- Fire Extinguisher Training,” “Land Transport- Ambulance Tour & CPR Demonstrations,” and “Air Transport- LifeNet Helicopter Landing on Helipad and Helicopter Tour.”

“Science, technology, engineering, and math are right now the top careers- top paying, and top opening positions,” Pinheiro said. “We are hoping this program will get kids interested in different possibilities.”

She noted that because the area is so small, there isn’t an abundance of job possibilities. “However, today is kind of an eye opener for students that all of these people live and work in our communities.”

The STEM program at Moriah is in its second year, with last year’s debut program being highly successful. The program initially started with the middle school, but there was such an outcry that elementary students wanted to participate as well, so the program has now been extended to two weeks, the first week for elementary and the second week targeted for middle school.

“It’s been great, we’ve been everywhere,” Pinheiro praised of the program’s diverse activities that included a floating classroom to analyze water quality on Lake George, a trip to Bolton’s Landings Up Yonda Farms to learn about butterfly migration, and visiting Shelburne Farms to learn about life science. The program is free to sign up and is made possible by the College for Every Student Grant out of Essex.

In the Teddy Bear casting room, students joined a thoughtful discussion about the casting process, learning the basics such as age is often a determining factor how long a cast must be worn, how and why to check for a pulse while casting, the “white to pink fingertip” capillary refill test to make sure circulation hasn’t been cut off, and making sure to cast in the “position of function.” Fluffy white teddies (that students of course got to keep) sat quietly as little hands went to work, handing arms and legs with delicate care as they first applied a stockinet to an appendage, then a layer of cotton, and finally rolled the casting material backward and applied water to set and dry.

“The hospital’s staff created a great hands-on learning experience for these kids,” Pinheiro said gratefully.

The ambulance tour was a high point of the trip. With a talk led by Andrew Teig, who has 25 years experience in EMS, students all gathered and sat in the back of the ambulance and saw first-hand the equipment, gurney, and even had hands-on learning with the CPR dummy.

“Across the UVM Health Network, we are committed to strengthening rural health care and developing our future workforce,” said Julie Tromblee, MSN, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer for Elizabethtown Community Hospital. “Today, these students got to experience some of the best doing what they love while making a difference in the community. I hope that leaves them with a lasting impression and we’ll see some of the students pursuing a path in health care.”