George Lucas Educational Foundation

Career-Themed High Schools

A whole-school focus on a specific profession helps make amazing partnerships possible.
Kathy Baron
Former Edutopia reporter and editor, mother of two.
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A Magnet School Attracts Students to Careers in Health (Transcript)

Maria: Eighty percent of our kids come on a school bus. Average I guess travel time one way is 40 minutes. So they have to have that commitment to say, "Yeah, I'm going to be at the bus stop at six o'clock in the morning."

Narrator: Students are drawn from all over Los Angeles to Bravo Medical Magnet High School. Named after an East Los Angeles physician, Bravo is a medicine and health career themed school.

Joe: So that will help to protect her ears.

Narrator: The curriculum exposes every student to aspects of the medical field and offers more focused studies in small academies within the school. Bravo also offers outstanding dance and music programs.

Teacher: One, two, three, four, five, six--

Narrator: Clubs and athletics.

Teacher: Paso numero uno.

Narrator: Parental support groups.

Narrator: And partnerships with local institutions like the USC Medical Center.

Joe: So when do the nerves stimulate? Do they stimulate at the same time that the hormone does, or not?

Maria: We are probably about 85 percent free and reduced lunch. So our kids are not middle class kids. But I believe that when you have high expectations and you have that support system that will help students that are having difficulty, when you believe in them and they feel that you believe in them, they will do anything you ask of them.

Dea: So this electrode is going to be measuring your brainwaves. So I'm going to put one electrode on your forehead, and one electrode on your ear.

Joe: A major focus of the class is to have the students become curious that they raise their own questions that are focused around physiology.

Dea: I came up with a hypothesis that people who play video games more might actually have a lower stress level than people who didn't. So I started asking people, "Do you consider yourself a gamer or not?" And then I would test them.

Joe: And then also having the technology to be able to measure biopotentials or blood pressure or vital signs.

Joe: Exercise can actually reduce stress.

Dea: Right.

Joe: How could that work?

Dea: That's something I still want to test, because I still think that athletes will have a lower stress level, just because they have an output for that stress.

Narrator: Some Bravo students continue their education in the afternoon by walking three blocks from the high school to one of the most prestigious medical centers in the country.

Maria: We have a terrific partnership with the University of Southern California. With the ROP program, the students work at the hospitals that are owned by USC in a variety of different areas.

Student: And where is she going today?

Maria: We know that not every student that comes here is going to be a doctor, going to go to medical school. But it helps them see that it's not just the doctors that make that whole health medical world happen.

Narrator: A select group of students in Bravo's science, technology, and research program, and the Engineering for Health Academy, work in research labs on the USC medical campus.

Nouri: These experiments are really very high-level, sophisticated experiments. Just the same experiments that the post docs and graduate students are doing. So the high school students are really-- this is fantastic for them. They can do very cool stuff.

Hey Harvey.

Student: Hey.

What are you working on?

Student: Right now, I'm just trying to smooth out the output of this circuit.

Mark: We actually have curricula that we've instituted towards biomedical engineering and engineering in life sciences which goes hand in glove with the experimental experience in the lab. Education has to be much more hands on. We can’t continue to just educate students in silos and not integrate technologies in this case into medical applications.

Teacher: The way that the course is designed, it's a two period, right?

Student: Mm-hm.

Teacher: And the first semester, you learn medical terminology.

Narrator: Many students entering Bravo are classified as at-risk academically. So the school offers a range of support services for students and their parents.

Maria: Twice a month, the parents meet with the counselors. The counselors provide workshops for them, and then they sit with their child and they teach them how to read their report card, how to call the teacher, how to have a parent-teacher conference. So really helping parents and kids better communicate. And helping the parents to know which questions they should be asking.

Narrator: There are also homework help programs monitored by some of the many Bravo alumni who return to the school to help the next wave of students.

Rolando: I do want to see a lot of these kids succeed. And I can see, you know, why some of the teachers try so hard with many of the students. The more you know them, the more you really want them to grow for themselves.

Rolando: In this one, what do you think we're looking for?

Student: N.

Rolando: N. All right.

Marsela: Definitely Bravo gave me so much. It got me really prepared for college. And, you know, I didn't think that back when I was here. I was like, "Oh my God, I have to read how much? I have to do this? I have to write this essay?" Then when I got to college, I'm like, the first couple of classes, like, "Oh, this is a breeze." You know, I read-- like, yeah, I read this in high school. And I really wanted to come back and give some of that to the kids.

Maria: Don't let anyone, especially yourself, say this is something I can't do.

Maria: I'm not a person that supports the status quo, because usually status quo means it's about the adults and not about the kids. And when it's about kids, you see the results. It's not easy, sometimes. But it's the work that we have to do.

Maria: All right, guys, have a great day.

Student: Thank you.

Narrator: For more information about what works in education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producers

  • Doug Keely
  • Kathy Baron

Camera Crew

  • Jeff Freeman
  • Rebecca Usnik

Additional Camera

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music

  • Ed Bogas

Additional footage courtesy of

  • Doheny Eye Institute

Edutopia's Schools That Work Merging Career Tech and College Prep installment is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

Eighteen-year-old Melody Villar always thought she'd be a doctor, but volunteering at the University of Southern California's (USC) University Hospital changed her mind. "I learned I was scared of blood," admits the 2010 graduate of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, in Los Angeles. Now, she's focusing on liberal studies at California State University, Los Angeles. "I realized I wanted to work with kids instead."

Themed high schools can be charters, magnets, or traditionally governed. What they all have in common is an enrollment process open to all students in the district, usually by lottery, to ensure that schools like Bravo don't cream the crop (though it is true that, by dint of applying, students and their families may indicate a higher motivation and sophistication about making educational choices).

Four girls standing around woman smiling
María Torres-Flores, (in red) leads Bravo Medical Magnet High School in East Los Angeles where students graduate ready to enter a host of health-care professions.

Some 86 percent of Bravo students are entitled to free or reduced-price lunch and, academically, they run the gamut from special education to gifted students. Joseph Cocozza, who has a dual appointment working as a science educator both for Bravo and for UCS's Science, Technology, and Research Program, says they want at-risk students to apply. Bravo defines at-risk students as those who have learning potential but are unmotivated and need academic support. "It's not about being bright; it's about being enthusiastic," said Cocozza. "I believe firmly that if you can help students see where they can go, then you can motivate them to want to get there."

Career-themed high schools and career academies share many of the same principles and components.


  • Everyone is a mentor: This is truly a process of one generation passing on its knowledge to the next. At Bravo, PhD students and professionals mentor current students in medical internships; recent Bravo graduates tutor at the school; and, in turn, current Bravo students mentor local elementary school kids. "Mentorship is critical in health and medicine," says Mark Humayun, the USC ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, and cell neurobiology professor who developed a prosthetic retina. "When you're forging and developing a new area in the field, it's really important to start early."
  • Flexibility for students: Just because Bravo is a medical magnet doesn't mean it expects all students to become doctors. The high school offers specialized programs of study in more than a dozen health sciences and related fields including engineering for health, science technology and research, and nursing and dental assisting. Although Bravo's principal, María Torres-Flores, wants all her students to attend college, their education also allows them to go directly into health professions or certification programs as dental hygienists, medical technicians, and phlebotomists.


  • A dedicated outreach professional: Joseph Cocozza has a dual appointment at Bravo and USC. He also conducts outreach to local elementary schools, bringing Bravo students to teach science to the younger kids.
  • Parent partnerships: Bravo offers parents bilingual evening classes that are taught by experts in the field of effective discipline and advocating for one's child. The school also expects parents to sign a pledge in which they agree to attend an orientation session and teacher-student conferences and to do their best to help their children succeed in school.
  • The essential extras: Bravo takes to heart the maxim about "all work and no play." The school has a highly regarded dance program. It also offers varsity and JV sports, drama, music, and dozens of clubs, from an Armenian student group to tae kwan do.

What do you think? We'd love your feedback on this installment of Schools That Work.

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