School of the Week: Ben Carson High School for Science and Medicine

It was a moment 15-year-old sophomore Mia Norris would never forget.

As a student at Benjamin Carson High School for Science and Medicine, she was part of a group of more than 120 students to participate in a “White Coat Ceremony” in which she and her classmates received a white doctor’s coat and pins that say “#1.”

“We are all just so excited, and we walk around proudly with our uniforms,” Norris said. “It’s wonderful.”

At medical schools, a white coat ceremony is like a rite of passage to welcome students to the medical profession. And at Ben Carson, a student who wears the white coat is displaying his or her seriousness and commitment to pursue a career in science and medicine.

Ben Carson has weaved such experiences throughout its four-year curriculum as a way to ensure students are able to visualize themselves in their future careers, helping to drive them and prepare them  for college, and to become future health care workers, said Principal Brenda Belcher. Students participate in numerous extra-curricular activities such as the Future DOCs Health Series and Pre-Med Club.

Opportunities abound in Science and Medicine

Located in the heart of the Detroit Medical Center and steps away from Detroit Children’s Hospital, Ben Carson offers students a rigorous preparatory curriculum that allows them to explore college courses, hold health and medical-related internships, including at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital, and engage in community service projects.  The school also has partnerships with DMC, Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Henry Ford Health System and other business and community organizations.

“This school is phenomenal,” said Norris, who wants to be a forensic scientist. “They shape you.  They take you from what you want to be and they take your ideas and your motives and they shape them into the future you.”

As part of Ben Carson’s academic plan, which was created specifically for the school and approved by the school’s governing council, students start exploring careers in science and medicine beginning in ninth grade. The benefits that Ben Carson students enjoy include job-shadowing medical professionals, attending medical events, personalized discussions with doctors and health care professionals and much more, Belcher said. The students’ mentors are medical students, doctors and health professionals.

Getting students “into the field” and experiencing their future careers firsthand, including experiences like working in the Operating Room at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital, is a top priority at Ben Carson.

“What we have determined is that there is a direct correlation between how those students perform academically when they come back to school because they have now made a connection with careers that they desire,” Belcher said.


Destined for College and Careers

Indeed, students cannot walk around Ben Carson without being inundated with the notion that they are destined for college and a career in medicine or health. But it’s more than just a concept. The school even has staff on hand to ensure that students have access to college preparation right on site through their College Transition Advisor, Derschaun Sharpley.

“My responsibility is to prepare our students for the transition to college and get them all the knowledge they need to get there,” Sharpley said.

The College Transition Office is decorated with flags and signage from dozens of colleges. The file cabinets are bulging with college materials, scholarship opportunities and financial aid information. Sharpley also helps students learn about college recruiters and how to arrange college tours.

Part of the formula for making the school successful is the freedom to tailor-make a curriculum focused around science and medicine, Belcher said. She credits that, in part, to being one of nine Detroit Rising College Preparatory Schools, which are a new line of self-governing schools within DPS that are designed to replicate high-performing urban schools at scale within a collective bargaining agreement.

The schools, which each have their own governing councils, are committed to putting every student on a path to graduation and college. The schools will work to ensure at least 90 percent of incoming ninth-graders graduate and at least 90 percent of all graduates go to college.

The idea is to delegate power to principals and teachers at the school level, but hold them accountable for performance, in an attempt to get the innovation and quality of high-performing schools.

Ben Carson, which was named a Michigan Future school through a competitive grant process, also benefits from a board that has enormous medical brainpower. Among the members are: Dr. Reginald Eadie, President, DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital; Dr. Gary Willyerd, Associate Dean, MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine; and Dr. Susan Schooley, Physician, Henry Ford Health System. Rounding out the council’s expertise are Olisaeloka I. Dallah, Vice President of Compliance and Internal Audit, Greektown Casino and Sonya Norris, a Ben Carson parent.

Thanks to those connections, the school has forged lasting partnerships. And those partnerships, combined with a rigorous curriculum and an abundance of extra-curricular opportunities, make Ben Carson a unique school where students begin walking a path toward their dreams.

“Many of our kids have dreamed of being medical doctors. Some students think it’s not possible,” Belcher said. “But the possibility is here at Ben Carson High School.”

The open enrollment period starts February 1. Applications are available at or by contacting the school at (313) 494-1805.

Something you didn’t know…

The school is named in honor of the internationally acclaimed, Detroit-born, African-American pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson. As the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Carson has received much recognition for performing and mastering ground-breaking surgical procedures. He was honored with the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions. To learn more, visit Johns Hopkins University. The school aims to honor the contributions Dr. Carson has made not only to the global medical community, but also as a role model for Detroit students with aspirations and interests in science and medical fields. Dr. Carson has pledged to be involved with the school and plans annual visits.

Educator Focus

Principal Belcher said Ben Carson has outstanding teachers and staff who are dedicated to student success. But she would like to spotlight Michelle Schwendemann, a gifted and highly effective math teacher who adds tremendous value to the Ben Carson team.

Says Ms. Belcher: “Michelle Schwendemann serves as the school improvement chairperson and helps to lead the school’s data team. She serves as the lead math teacher and was instrumental in the successful launch of the school, and she has demonstrated her commitment and passion to ensuring students receive the requisite skills so that they will thrive in college and beyond.

Mrs. Schwendemann has strong leadership skills and does ‘whatever it takes’ to help students meet expected outcomes, especially on college entry assessments. She has been successful in the implementation of the school’s garden, works in the extended day program and will sign-up to help with school programs and projects when needed.

This past summer, she worked with teachers and community partners to develop a pre-matriculation program for incoming ninth-grade students focused on health and nutrition. This program integrated the core content skills with a theme-based unit. While she has a full time instructional load, she is committed to working with the leadership team to build a successful program at Ben Carson, as she models the way for other staff members.”

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