Working through the Albany Advocacy Resource Center’s (ARC) High School High Tech program, recent Westover High School graduates Britavian Hightower, left, and Travis Gainer, right, earned internships at Albany’s Musculoskeletal Associates (MAS), founded by orthopedist Phillip Hayek, center. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Through its High School High Tech program the Albany Advocacy Resource Center (ARC) recently teamed up with orthopedist Phillip Hayek, owner of Albany’s Musculoskeletal Associates (MSA) to provide scholarships for students with alternative learning styles and real world job skills through internships at the practice.
Starting earlier this summer, recent Westover High School graduates Britavian Hightower and Travis Gainer began working as interns with MSA, in the company’s physical therapy and radiology areas, as part of MSA’s support of the High School High Tech program.
After just a few weeks together both the students and the company are beginning to see value in the program.
“It’s been great,” said Hightower. “I love the place. I love the patients and the fellow associates. Everyone’s made us feel really comfortable and welcome and we’re learning a lot.”
Added Gainer, “It’s been really interesting to see what the patients go through trying to get back on their feet and get healed.”
As excited as the two interns are, Hayek, who founded MSA in 2002, might even be more so, saying the two young men have so far exceeded his expectations.
“They’re both great kids,” Hayek said. “They’re pretty impressive.”
Hightower and Gainer, who were both diagnosed as having what is called “alternative learning styles,” feel their initial success has a lot to do with their having been a part of the ARC’s High School High Tech program since they began at WHS as freshmen.
“They kind of recruited us out of eighth grade,” Hightower said. “The program gave us support along the way with school and working toward what we wanted to do after high school.”
Both Hightower, who attended Radium Middle School, and Gainer, who attended Dougherty Middle School, had an interest in some type of health care career and throughout their high school years were given extra support and education designed to help them prepare for higher education and careers in health care.
The High School High Tech program is a national initiative that started in 1997 and is administered in Dougherty County by the Albany ARC since the purpose of the program is to provide educational enrichment for high school students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing careers in science and technology.
Those students, who are identified in middle school and have a diagnosed disability, are then provided with additional learning opportunities and projects aimed at developing their skills.
In Dougherty County all eligible students who qualify attend WHS, which houses the program and its instructors.
According to Laura Calhoun, who is a High School High Tech Coordinator with ARC, students from all four Dougherty County high schools feed into the program . She said 46 students were enrolled in the program last year.
“It gives students with disabilities the extra help they might need to be successful,” said Calhoun.
Calhoun said there are a variety of different disabilities and alternative learning styles that could qualify a student for the program including things such as blindness and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), that might not fully hinder a student’s ability to learn and perform if given the right environment.
“Various conditions can be diagnosed,” said Calhoun. “These are students who have a disability but you wouldn’t necessarily know it.”
In fact, both Hightower and Gainer, had little trouble earning their high school diplomas and have acclimated well to their positions at MSA. Both are also preparing to enroll at Albany Technical College and from there transferring to Darton State College for additional education; Hightower to pursue radiology and Gainer to pursue nursing.
Both credit the High School High Tech program for preparing them for the paths they’re on.
“I’d say the program is successful and rewarding,” said Hightower. “Successful for them and rewarding for us. They’ve gotten us ready for jobs, taught us how to dress, provided classes in the medical field and we’re CPR certified. They help us out a lot and are always there for us.”
Calhoun said one of the biggest successes of the program is the way the community embraces it and provides opportunities for scholarships and internships.
In the case of MSA, the current internship opportunities for Hightower and Gainer stemmed from Hayek wanting to do more to help in the community.
Hayek said that a few years ago the practice began supporting the Albany ARC by providing scholarships to students in the organization’s High School High Tech program through the company’s Fifth Friday Foundation.
According to Hayek, he had some patients who he had helped through orthopedic issues for numerous years that were participating in Special Olympics. After inquiring about how he might be able to help, representatives from the Albany ARC mentioned the organization’s High School High Tech program that helps high school students get extra education and training to prepare them for a chosen employment path.
“They said, ‘we do have this High School High Tech program and when these kids get done they need some scholarship money,’” Hayek recalled. “So I said, ‘well I’ll do some scholarships for the kids when they get out of the high tech program.’”
Since MSA had already established its Fifth Friday Foundation, Hayek said they began using some of those proceeds to fund scholarships. The Fifth Friday Foundation is MSA’s charitable giving program and is funded primarily through profits generated during months that have five Fridays.
“Any time there’s five Fridays in a month we donate all of our proceeds that day to different charities,” said Hayek. “(Scholarships for High School High Tech) is one of the things we fund with those moneys.”
In fact, Hightower was the recipient of this year’s scholarship, and since his interest was in health care, primarily in x-ray technology, something MSA does frequently, Hayek was able to offer Hightower the internship opportunity, along with an opportunity for Gainer as well.
“It just so happened that the kids with the scholarships had interest that we were able to provide work experience for in physical therapy and radiology and so they both started working here this summer,” said Hayek. “Hopefully it’s something that will be able to provide real work opportunity for them while they complete their degrees. It kind of all just came together.”
Hayek said that while he can’t guarantee internships for High School High Tech students every year, he is open to the idea if it matches up.
“We’ll continue with the scholarship program for sure,” Hayek said. “If the kids come out with different work focuses that we can’t incorporate here, then we won’t do internships. But we’ll differently continue the scholarship programs through Fifth Friday Foundation.”
For Hightower and Gainer the internship opportunity has only confirmed for both of them that they want to continue working in the health care industry moving forward and both feel they are on the right path to success.
“It’s a great opportunity and we’re both really excited about it,” said Gainer.
For Hayek and MSA, the scholarships and internships only confirm one of the true benefits of being a small business owner involved in the community.
“To have the ability now to give back is just wonderful,” said Hayek. “We’ve been blessed so much here. It’s fun, absolutely fun. It’s good for us getting involved in these scholarship programs. It’s been good for me. If you can help people realize what they want to do, that’s it. That’s the most fun in having a successful business, trying to help people realize what they want to do or not want to do.”
To learn more about the Albany ARC and the programs it administers, along with High School High Tech, visit the organizations website at www.albanyarc.org. More information about Hayek and MSA is available at www.msa4life.com.