Bascom Palmer Hosts Career Day for Breakthrough Miami Students

Some kids might be disappointed to spend their summer field trip at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and not Zoo Miami where others went, but not 11-year-old McCarthney Cerisier. “The zoo is so common,’’ the incoming 6th-grader said, after inspecting a sclera, the white of a human eye, in the Florida Lions Eye Bank on Bascom Palmer’s third floor. “This is not so common. You get to see a human eye and how it works.”

McCarthney’s sentiment seemed to be widely held among the 28 Breakthrough Miami students who spent July 12 touring the eye institute and hearing from a range of Miller School faculty and staff to learn about the variety of careers open to students who take their schooling seriously, and set their sights high.

Designed to inspire and prepare motivated low-income students to stay on a path to college, Breakthrough Miami offers fun but rigorous educational and mentoring opportunities to middle-schoolers who all too often lose scholastic ground over the summer, and end up dropping out of school. Their Career Day field trip to Bascom Palmer was part of a six-week summer institute hosted by some of Miami’s private college preparatory schools.

Offering a glimpse of the importance of ophthalmology, Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., professor and chairman of Bascom Palmer, welcomed the students by asking them to cover their eyes, and imagine going through life sightless. He also assured them careers in medicine were open even to the squeamish at heart. “I was scared of blood, and didn’t like needles,” he said.

Jorge A. Peña, M.D., C.E.B.T., technical director of the eye bank, described the bank’s “safe” as a “huge refrigerator” used to keep human eye tissue chilled, and ready for transplant in all types of sight-saving eye surgeries. Then, in one of the day’s highlights, he led the students to the small eye bank lab on the third floor, and passed around human eyes that have been donated for research.

Like his classmates, an excited George Perry left very impressed. “I didn’t know they took people’s eyeballs out and used them in other people,” the 12-year-old exclaimed.

The students also heard from Natalie Geary, M.D., Chief Patient Experience Officer, on how and why she became a pediatrician, and Sonia Yoo, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, who spoke about cornea transplants. Scott Roy, manager of communications at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and Ruben R. de la Vega Jr., M.S.N., director of the Quality Management Department at Bascom Palmer and Anne Bates Leach Eye Hospital, also addressed the youngsters.

While the impact of a single Career Day field trip is hard to gauge, Breakthrough Miami’s formula for keeping vulnerable students engaged clearly works. While only 71 percent of Miami-Dade students graduate, 100 percent of those who complete Breakthrough Miami’s 8-year program do.

Before he left Bascom Palmer, McCarthney Cerisier had no trouble explaining why: “I love it,” he said. “You get to have fun while learning.”

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