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WELCOME TO TOMORROW

March 20, 2018

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Will Shelton could not keep from smiling as he stood in awe among middle school students staring at the da Vinci Xi surgical robot.

“It’s not what I remember an operating room looking like,” said Blackman Middle School’s soon-to-be-retiring principal, whose father, Dr. Ben Shelton, was a longtime general surgeon in Murfreesboro.

Dr. Shelton was a surgeon at the old Rutherford County hospital on Bell Street from 1971 until 1989 and then became a family doctor until his retirement.

“I remember a stainless-steel table with a huge light over it,” recalled the younger Shelton, who observed his father in surgery six to eight times as a teenager, “and tables around the outer perimeter of the room with pans and instruments.”

Those instruments included little more than a standard scalpel along with a needle and thread.

Like many of his middle school students, Shelton was 13 the time he scrubbed-up and stood right beside his father as the elder Shelton removed a woman’s gall bladder.

“That was just incredible,” said the lifelong educator. “It was awesome — an experience I’ll never forget.”

Shelton, who is “thrilled for the kids” at Blackman, hopes Monday’s hands-on experience is the same for them.

The da Vinci surgical system exhibition ties in strongly to the STEM curriculum and provides a direct opportunity for students to see the importance of learning science, math and technology have in the real world.

“I’m doing everything I possibly can to put 21st century skills into their minds,” said STEM instructor Zach Martin, a 17-year educator, who is in his second year at Blackman. “Just give them an idea of what’s capable, what’s possible out there and show them things they might not have thought about.”

The difference between 13-year-olds today from when Shelton was 13, is that in the past it did not occur to middle-schoolers to think about the unimaginable — even in the field of medicine.

Whereas kids today have come to expect the unimaginable.

Tripp Glanton, a seventh-grader at Blackman, likened the da Vinci Xi robot to a virtual reality video game.

“It was like a VR headset,” he said. “I enjoyed it, and it was fun.”

Glanton added, “I think it’s interesting that technology can allow us to basically operate on people without human movement.”

“It makes them fearless,” Martin said. “Some of the new robotics I bring into the classroom, some of the new programs I bring in, they just jump into it and problem-solve. It’s just fun to watch their eyes light up when they figure something out and when they learn something new.”

The opportunity was born out of a field trip last fall.

Afterward Martin was thanking Kerry Rogers, marketing director for Tristar StoneCrest Medical Center and The Surgical Clinic, for allowing his first semester STEM students the experience of visiting their facility and the opportunity for a hands-on demonstration of the da Vinci robot.

Rogers replied by asking Martin if he would be interested in having an exhibition at Blackman Middle School.

Shelton then told Martin, “Whatever we need to do to make it work.”

The exhibition was made possible by a partnership that includes Tristar, Rutherford Works and the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.

Shelton joked, “This was not part of” the Orwellian stories he read as a teenager.

Instead “it’s brave-new-world material,” Shelton said.

“The way things have progressed and as fast as they’re progressing, these kids are right on the leading edge of that,” said Martin, who added, “There’s no telling what these kids will be doing or what (will) be available to them.”

PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Blackman middle-schoolers gain further insight into the healthcare field on Monday, when Tristar StoneCrest Medical Center hosted an inspiring opportunity for hands-on learning with the da Vinci Xi surgical system for STEM students.