FACES for the Future prepares Hoover teens for health careers and much more

Seventy-eight students in 10th through 12th grades at Hoover’s Academy of Health and Healthier Communities are enrolled in FACES for the Future. Photo/City Heights Life

There was a time when Sierra Jenson used to get mostly C’s in her classes, but in the past three years, the Hoover High School student has worked hard to earn A’s and B’s. Now a senior, she is looking forward to college so she can follow in her cousin’s footsteps and become a medical technician.

Jenson is among 78 sophomores, juniors, and seniors enrolled in FACES for the Future, a collaboration between Rady Children’s Hospital and Hoover High School that provides health career exploration, academic assistance, wellness support, and leadership development. A key goal of the program is to prepare youth from low income communities, especially those from ethnically diverse backgrounds, to enter health professions.

“I want to make a difference in other people’s lives and also mine,” said Jenson who aspires to work in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units because of the job shadowing experiences she’s had at Rady’s through FACES.

FACES started at Hoover in 2008 and is modeled after a program by the same name founded by doctors at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland who were disturbed by what they saw in their adolescent patients. They wanted to combat teen pregnancies, homicides, suicides and other problems by providing at-risk youth with opportunities for personal and professional development. Eventually, FACES evolved to become a statewide model that educates all youth interested in the health industry, regardless of their background, to understand the complexities and benefits of working with diverse populations.

Participants at Hoover are all enrolled in the Academy of Health and Healthier Communities, and they enter FACES in their sophomore year and stay for three years. If they fail any class or their GPA drops below 2.0, tutoring is mandatory.

Besides getting specialized courses in health care, they attend monthly workshops that focus on personal development, go on “clinical rotations” at Rady’s where they do job shadowing, and intern at community organizations in City Heights that are involved in a variety of health initiatives.

Ellen Hohenstein, director of Hoover’s Health Center and Academy of Health and Healthier Communities, said students get exposed to a wealth of health careers beyond nurses and doctors.

“We want them to know if (they) are interested in health care, (they) don’t necessarily end up in a hospital,” Hohenstein said.

Hoover graduated its first FACES cohort in June. All 24 graduates of the program have gone on to higher education. Many plan to pursue careers in the health industry.

One of the graduates was Lan Dam, who now attends San Diego State University. Dam was recently hired by FACES to serve as a tutor.

For her, as for many other students, FACES was a life-changing experience. In the past, she had wanted to work in the for-profit sector, but now she’s interested in nonprofit health care management.

“It comes down to more about helping people, rather than making profit out of people,” she said.

Job shadowing doctors and nurses at Rady’s greatly affected how she viewed the medical field. She used to think hospitals were scary places because of how they are portrayed on TV dramas. But when she visited Rady’s, she found a warm environment filled with caring staff.

FACES changed her in other ways, too. Dam said before joining the program, she was not the type to get involved in school events. But after joining the program, she took part in raising funds for FACES activities and participated in field trips, potlucks, and team-building exercises.

“FACES not only helped me grow academically, it also helped me with personal growth,” she said.

Because participants stay together for most of their high school career, they become a close-knit group with a strong sense of solidarity and unity. Jorge Palacios, a Hoover senior, said that’s why he loves being in the program. The sense of togetherness and purpose drives him to succeed and pursue his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Palacios said he will be the first in his family to go on to college, and he is leaning toward specializing in public health.

“I want to be in the medical field and make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

Having met doctors through FACES and seen first-hand what they do, Palacios said he’s confident that his dream is “achievable, doable.”

To learn more about FACES for the Future, visit facesforthefuture.org.