Loudoun Co. students battling to get medical sciences club at their middle school

Students from Farmwell Station Middle School testify to Virginia House delegates. (Courtesy Loudoun County Public Schools)

Farmwell Station Middle School student Liam Gandhi and his peers were considering ways to pursue their interest in the medical sciences beyond the classroom.

So with the support of the Loudoun County school’s principal, the group launched a Future Health Professionals club. It meets monthly on Wednesdays and is currently at capacity with 25 students.

The club has heard from various doctors and experts in the field, including Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the county’s health department. But, it ultimately decided to apply to become an official chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) organization, which would give the students the chance to participate in competitions and access curriculum materials.

But in mid-October, the group’s application to Virginia’s Department of Education for HOSA membership was denied because the school didn’t offer a corresponding health and medical sciences course.

The students took matters into their own hands, working with state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, who put together a bill to address what he called a technicality. Senate Bill 707 would allow Virginia’s middle and high schools to create career and technical education student organizations, regardless of whether schools offer corresponding courses.

It has been approved by the General Assembly and is awaiting Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s signature.

“We didn’t have to go and try so hard to get all of this to happen,” student Anvi Allada said. “But we knew that there are a ton of kids out there who are going to miss out on these opportunities just because of some (policy) that won’t allow us to do it.”

The legislation was submitted about a week before the deadline to introduce new bills, Subramanyam said. Some groups pushed back on the proposed changes, which Subramanyam said is likely a result of them not wanting to change the status quo.

The Farmwell students played a role in the legislative process, too. A group of them testified before the House of Delegates Subcommittee on K-12 Education, and Gandhi testified in front of the state Senate.

“We could even revolutionize middle schools everywhere,” student Ethan Mills said. “If we advocate for ourselves, we could teach other middle schoolers that if you want something, you can make it happen.”

At Farmwell, Gandhi said the group is hoping to have an official HOSA chapter starting next year.

“There’s not just speakers, there’s also competitions,” Gandhi said. “Those competitions help us get more out of it.”

Subramanyam’s bill is awaiting Youngkin’s signature, and while a spokeswoman said he’s reviewing the legislation, he “remains committed to helping Virginians and students acquire in-demand skills and workforce training.”

If the bill becomes law, the benefits would extend beyond students interested in the medical sciences. In other states, middle schoolers have the chance to participate in HOSA and the business organization Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), too.

The Farmwell group is hoping that soon, they’ll have the same opportunity.

“The fact is: we are actually changing laws in Virginia,” Gandhi said.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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