As members of the Class of 2017 step into Coon Rapids High School next fall, some also will be taking a first step toward a career in biomedicine.

After about a year of preparation and planning, Coon Rapids recently earned designation as a specialty school and the go-ahead to offer a four-year program in that area. The program will offer students a shot at college credit, community job contacts and individual counseling to help them create a high school path that will give them a head-start into a range of postsecondary education options and jobs related to health care, medicine and medical technology.

School officials cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicted that health-care jobs will have increased by 62 percent between 2010 and 2020, well ahead of the expected 14 percent average job growth trajectory. This program will catapult students into the center of a growing field.

"We think we're going to be putting kids on that path at a point in their education where it really makes a difference," said Jeff McGonigal, the district's associate superintendent for high schools.

The school will use a curriculum provided by the group Project Lead the Way, a national Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) advocacy group based in Indianapolis. The Anoka-Hennepin district, which includes Coon Rapids High School, already has a relationship with Project Lead the Way through the engineering program already in place at Blaine High School.

Similar programs exist in other metro-area schools, but this will be the first to be offered in the north metro, McGonigal said. The program will be available to any student in the district and to others through open enrollment. Transportation, however, is limited to within the city limits. The district has begun the process to make Coon Rapids High School a magnet program through the NorthWest Suburban Integration District, which would expand busing to any interested student in the eight-district cooperative.

'Strategic investments'

The new program is one of several "strategic investments" the district is making this year, made possible after a budget surplus last year brought about by a series of cost-cutting and efficiency measures adding up to more than $11 million. At its outset, this program will require a $90,000 investment for startup renovations and equipment, and has been allocated $80,000 a year for operation thereafter. The school is working on getting federal grant funding targeted at career and technical education programs, and other local and national grant money.

"We would like to have more money to have it bigger and better, but we have enough to make it really good and get it started," McGonigal said.

District officials estimate that the program will start next fall with a class of about 30 students.

Possible college credits

Starting in either ninth or 10th grade, students can take two trimesters a year, moving from Principles of Biomedical Science to Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions and finally Biomedical Intervention.

Students who complete four biomed classes and four years of math and science will graduate as Biomedical High Scholars. They can test for a range of college credits at participating colleges, including the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University.

Counselors will help students to align the rest of their classes to their individual long-term plans and help them set goals, said Coon Rapids Principal Annette Ziegler.

"Kids know it's achievable, and they can chunk it out," she said. "It's something they want to be part of. ... It's really catering to what they're interested in, and what they want to pursue."

The location of the program is no accident. Minnesota is home to a range of high-profile medical device and innovation companies, including Medtronic, Boston Scientific, the Mayo Clinic and others. Mercy Hospital is only 3 miles to the west of the campus. Also, for the past few years, the city of Coon Rapids has committed to a business plan to draw and retain companies that specialize in biomedicine and technology. In their fourth year, students will have the opportunity to pursue internships and mentorships, and the proximity of the hospital and companies like Biovest, Bayer Interventional, RMS Co. and others could be a huge benefit, Ziegler said. She and others said the hope would be to forge partnerships with the city and with businesses there.

The program is aimed not only at high fliers en route to medical school, but at those students who will be a great fit for a range of careers attainable with a two-year degree, or for those who haven't yet considered their postsecondary options.

"We're hoping all students will want to take it because it will help them in their future," said Leah Sams, Project Lead the Way biomedical program coordinator at Coon Rapids. "It will be great for students who know they're going to college, and just as good for those who didn't know they should."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409