Vancouver Washington will be opening the nation's first school named for Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, nicknamed HeLa High School, the new campus will open in the Fall of 2013. It's not only special because they are honoring Henrietta Lacks. The school curriculum will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the campus covers a mere three acres.
The new health and biosciences high school's three story building is nestled next to a major hospital and medical buildings which is the perfect setting for the specialty classrooms designed for topics like bioengineering, nursing services, health informatics, pharmacology, biotech, microbiology, chemistry, advanced biology and physics.
The school was planned to capture the overflow from the school district's four hight schools. Applications have been flooding in from students set to begin their freshman and sophomore years in the Fall so much so that school officials are considering a lottery system to choose their first students. By 2015, students will fill all four years in the high school.
The school was named after Henrietta Lacks in a unanimous decision by the Evergreen Public Schools' Board of Directors. According to the article in local newspapers, "Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cancerous cells were removed, unbeknownst to her or her family, while a patient at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Lacks died in 1951. Her cells were given to a researcher, who discovered that Lacks cells did something never seen before: They could be kept alive and grow. The cells were named HeLa. These immortal cells were used by Jonas Salk to develop the polio vaccine, and have been used for cancer research, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits. There are more than 10,000 patents involving HeLa cells."
About the naming of the school, various Board members comments included, "it's an honor to name the school after a person who so impacted the world of medicine and science . . ." and it's "a privilege to be the first organization to publicly memorialize Henrietta Lacks by naming this school building after her."
Henrietta Lacks' story was brought to light by Portland Oregon author Rebecca Skloot in her 2010 book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Portland is just miles from the Vancouver STEM school.