Place-Based Learning in Medicine - Real World Learning
Wales, WI
Kettle Moraine School District
Support & Sustainability

Place-Based Learning in Medicine

The High School of Health Sciences (HS2) offers immersion in the fields of medical research, emergency medicine, clinical experience, and therapy. HS2 partners with ProHealth Care, Lake Country Fire & Rescue, Aurora Medical Center – Summit, and the Medical College of Wisconsin to provide hands-on experience and outreach for students at Kettle Moraine High School, allowing Kettle Moraine School District to directly meet the needs of area business partners. Through immersive environments, students in HS2 are introduced to diverse career pathways and professionals in the world of health care.

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Real World Learning involves place-based learning experiences. Some of our schools offer condensed and specific experiences in a particular field. These learning experiences are made available through strong and mutually-beneficial community partnerships. The intention is to allow students to experience the real world outside of the school walls. This expectation is based on the assumption that students need to get out into work environments to know where they might “fit” best.

Implementation: How We Did It

The idea for HS2 started with medical professionals in the community observing a need to build a local pipeline for the healthcare workforce and to develop specific aptitudes in the future workforce. Multiple partners, including two school districts, two corporate healthcare providers, and a medical college, collaborated over two years to design the program.

We developed a charter school that allows for flexible student release and appropriate alignment of place-based learning and academic development. We started small with partners to develop trust and allow the partnership to be refined based on the needs of the partners, the students, and the school. The school has evolved slowly and deliberately over six years, with many modifications and changes due to staffing potential and cultural needs.

The amount of time students spend on place-based learning increases each year. HS2 ninth graders spend 20-40 hours experiencing immersion with the Lake Country Fire & Rescue team learning CPR and other medical techniques. Once students turn 16 years old and are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), we can place them into health care facilities more easily, because patient privacy requirements are legally binding. Each student’s learning experience is personalized. Some seniors spend the majority of their time in place-based learning experiences. Some students in upper grades participate in internships at the Medical College of Wisconsin learning how to read and write scientifically, and working in microbiology and molecular biology labs, collecting data and doing statistical analysis. Other students work as Certified Nursing Assistants or in another area of healthcare.

We want all of our students to develop SEL skills, including self-management, self-efficacy, conscientiousness, and open-mindedness. This learning starts in academic classes, such as Biology, Physics, English, and social science classes, and continues through place-based learning. Many of our students with disabilities feel that they can engage with SEL and place-based learning in ways that they cannot in traditional academic settings.

Related Resources

Community Partners
Professional Learning

Community Partners

Our partners include Aurora Medical Center Summit, Lake Country Fire & Rescue, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and ProHealth Care. They each play a unique role in providing place-based learning experiences, ranging from pre-designed shadowing experiences to student-driven projects, that benefit both students and partners. In some cases, partners provide instruction in the form of Nursing Assistant training, Emergency First Responder training, and Emergency Medical Technician training.

Partners need to have an interest in student learning and achievement on the academic and social-emotional level. Partners also need to fulfill a need or receive a benefit in order to maintain partnership interest and investment. Many forces, including economic reasons, do not favor partner participation. The partnership must define what success looks like and both partners and schools need to develop mechanisms that maintain a pulse on that state of the partnership.

The HS2 director oversees all partnerships in the High School of Health Sciences and helps the district develop policy changes that might increase place-based learning in the district. There are many people at the district level that are involved and it is a challenge to implement systematic place-based learning at the district level. School-wide implementation is easier. Sustainability is dependent on the following requirements:

  • A student learning culture that recognizes the importance and value of place-based learning;
  • A staff that can integrate PBL opportunities into crediting opportunities for the students;
  • Parent recognition of the challenge of transportation and the required mechanisms for maintaining student responsibility;
  • An integrated SEL program that assists students, teachers, parents, and partners in the learning process.


Real World Learning outside of the school setting dovetails with students’ academic coursework. This applies to science instruction, such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, and math instruction, such as statistics. Social and emotional skills such as self-management and self-awareness (CASEL) are integrated and required for all place-based learning.


Each partner defines success in their unique way. Partners generally look at whether students successfully complete the programs they offer. Partners report seeing a positive impact on staff who work with our students, but it’s difficult to quantify. Despite management changes at our partner organizations, there has been a lot of continuity, which suggests that they are also benefiting from the program. We’ve used partner surveys in the past, but they have not yielded much useful information. We find much more value in engaging partners in ongoing discussion and collaboration. We frequently discuss whether the program is meeting the needs of our partners and what adjustments we can and should make to ensure that the partnerships continue and expand.

Some outcomes are defined in terms of subject area competencies. In all cases, the goal is to promote student awareness of college and career readiness demands and to help each student understand who they are as a person, from an SEL lens. The most concrete measures and outcomes we have are certifications in specific health care fields, such as Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency First Responder, Emergency Medical Technician, and Wilderness First Responder. On the academic side, we focus on helping students develop their resumes and get recommendations from professionals. Students often receive very thorough recommendation letters from the Principal Investigators whose labs they work in, which outline what they have done and are capable of doing. These letters help them at the college level and beyond.

Professional Learning

We currently have 176 students and eight teachers, which means that every teacher works very hard. We allow teachers flexibility in how they instruct their classes and accommodate for significant schedule interruptions, as place-based learning most definitely redefines the student schedule. Teachers contribute to decisions about which students should be placed in different learning environments and how to support students who may be struggling. We have a flat leadership structure built on trust that allows teachers and administrators to talk openly about challenges and problem-solve together to design solutions.

Planning is designed by school administration and partners in a pure form of a PLC. We have governance council meetings that follow a typical school board meeting agenda, where people raise any issues that may be coming up, and we discuss how we can address them. We have open, trust-based discussions frequently to learn from what we’re doing and apply our learning to make improvements.

Support Structures

Central administration has been supportive of place-based learning. They have assisted with logistics such as insurance coverage and schedule disruptions.

Transportation is a major component of place-based learning. We obtained a waiver from the state so that we’re not required to provide transportation. Most of our students can drive and do drive, which is essential, because we have small numbers of students at a large number of locations. We communicate and work with insurance companies to make sure students are covered. We also communicate with parents, starting with the parents of 8th graders who come for information nights. We ensure that everyone is clear on how transportation will work from the very beginning.

The Future of this Work

One consistent comment that we hear from partners who work with our students is, “I wish this school was around when I was a student.” This gives us confidence that our hard work is paying off.

We generally have about 50 kids per class, for a total of around 200. Students apply through a lottery, and we almost always end up with in-district kids. Recently, we have been looking to expand to 75 students per class. The limiting factors are the district’s ability to provide more resources and our partners’ ability to support more work-based learning experiences. If we grow, we will need a very committed, consistent faculty to maintain and retain the culture that we’ve worked hard to build over the last six years.

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