Bethany White wanted to teach her students more than how to tape ankles and treat minor injuries in her sports medicine class at Hixson High School.
"I wanted to dig deeper," White said. "But I realized that class didn't exist."
White, who worked as a cardiopulmonary therapist before teaching, knew many of her students were interested in careers in health science. She was determined to help prepare them for the college coursework, so she began writing her own exercise science course.
In 2012, the course was approved by the state for just Hixson High School, allowing White to teach students more in-depth information about the cardiovascular, pulmonary, skeletal and muscular systems. The course also covers all the materials needed for a student to earn a nationally accredited personal trainer certificate, and since launching the class 100 percent of the students have been certified.
White worked with the state to write curriculum and standards for the course, which is now available to any high school in Tennessee as a part of the state's career and technical education clinical exercise physiology pathway.
"We are really honored to be trailblazers here at Hixson," she said. "I'm glad we get to share this class with schools across the state."
Tennessee allows schools to adopt a range of career and technical pathways, which students can complete by taking a sequence of courses in high school.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said those programs help prepare students for postsecondary and future careers because they are designed by professionals who understand the content and how it's applied in the job.
"[White's] expertise in exercise science laid the foundation for a rigorous industry-aligned program of study in the health science career cluster," McQueen said in a statement. "This is one example of the ways teacher leaders can be powerful tools to continue Tennessee's positive, upward trajectory of increased educator effectiveness and student growth."
White believes it's important for students to think about careers early, and this exercise science course, along with the series of other classes in the pathway, exposes them to a variety of high-demand, well-paying jobs.
"The class also makes what they learn in school tangible," White said. " and it gives students the opportunity to take their passion and talents to another level."
Walking into White's classroom feels like a college training room, not a high school science class. Sports medicine tables are stationed in neat rows and nearby are exercise bikes and a wide range of physical therapy equipment.
But students don't only learn in this classroom, as they also rotate through a series of internships at a local hospital and physical therapy office during the two or three years they spend in the program.
Riley Duke, a senior, said he took a general health science class as a freshman and realized he wanted to enter the multi-year program. Duke said he now plans to go to college to become an athletic trainer or physical therapist.
"Knowing what my passion is helps motivate me in school," he said. "I now come to school because of this class."
Anna Rogers, also a senior, wants to be a physical therapist and said she thinks those high school classes will put her at an advantage in college.
"I'm just more prepared," she said. "And excited."
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.