Sitting in her microbiology class at Martin High School, Tina Phan realized her interest in optometry and ophthalmology. To explore that more, she’s getting real-life experience at Kleiman Evangelista Eye Centers of Texas in Arlington through a partnership with Arlington ISD.

“I was really excited to come here to reassure myself to see this is what I was interested in,” Phan, 18, said. “Some people have to waste their own time to go out and find their own experiences, and then, what if they don’t like it? Then they have to go find another path, but since I’m still in high school, I’m glad I was able to get this opportunity to kind of figure out myself to see if I want to further my education to go towards the field.”

Phan is a senior at Martin High School, but she also is part of the Health Science/Biomedical Health Science Practicum Program at the district’s Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center. The center accepts students from all district high schools to take career and technical education classes. It has partnerships with local businesses and health care facilities to allow students to shadow in their field.

The center could help increase the amount of graduates in the district considered college, career or military ready by the state. In the Texas Education Agency’s annual Texas Academic Performance Report, Arlington ISD was just below the state average of graduates career or military ready at 14.2% in the 2019-20 school year. The state average was 18.7%.

One of the district partnerships is with Kleiman Evangelista. Practice leader James Tanner said the partnership started years ago, but stopped because of COVID-19. Phan’s teacher, Jackie Robinius, contacted the center about starting the partnership back up because of Phan and another student’s interest in optometry.

Tanner did not work at Kleiman Evangelista when the original partnership was in place, so he said he spoke with several colleagues who gave overwhelmingly positive feedback. It is valuable to both students and the company, especially because there are no costs for the school or eye care center, he said.

“Our expectations are that they would assume the same responsibilities that a full-time employee would have,” Tanner said. “No, I’m not talking about the duties, but I’m talking about coming with the mindset of we’re here to help patients and then to be open to learning and coaching and being exposed to a lot of different facets of eye care.”

The benefits the program brings to the company are “hard to quantify,” Tanner said. The students are great, and the eye care center gets to have a role in training the next generation of medical professionals.

Because this is the first exposure to the field for the students, Tanner said, they come in with a fresh set of eyes and ask insightful questions that help the business improve. He also said it’s important to the company to be involved in the community.

“This is an opportunity for us to partner with somebody in a way that actually improves the lives of not only our patients today, but also future patients,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us to, one expose (the students), but then to ignite their passion. And to reinforce their belief in wanting to be an eyecare If we can, even in some small way, affect their love for the industry or their understanding of themselves, we take that very seriously.”

Kleiman Evangelista plans to continue the partnership for years to come, Tanner said.

Robinius said students in her health practicum classes are not only shadowing: The goal is for them to be able to earn their medical assistant certification by the time they graduate, along with several other certifications to help them get a job in their desired field.

To get into her class, students have to apply, turn in a resume, complete prerequisite classes, provide references, complete a digital interview and come in for a face-to-face interview with Robinius.

The benefits for students start with real-world experience. By being in the field, Robinius said, some students realize they want to do something else. In the long run, that decision can save them hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition fees.

It also gives students a chance to make connections with professionals who can serve as references for jobs or college applications, she said. Additionally, some of the hospitals or offices the students are shadowing at offer scholarships.

Some students, like Phan, are reassured they’ve chosen the right path because of the class. Robinius said Phan comes back to class excited and happy about everything she is learning and getting to experience.

“She’s going to make such a fabulous health care worker,” Robinius said. “I know she’s going to be a fantastic optometrist, if not an eye surgeon.”

As part of the program, Phan gets to spend some afternoons at the eye center for the spring semester shadowing technicians. She gets to see the day-to-day work of a technician and learn how to do those tasks.

Phan even learned how to dilate a patient’s eyes. She said she is hoping to also get to follow the optometrist and ophthalmologist in the upcoming weeks.

“It’s cool how now I’m in a real setting where I’m able to see patients and able to actually help patients in a way,” Phan said. “I just hope I’m able to come out with all the experience I can.”

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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