If you listen to the interview with Milton Hershey School teacher Bobby Kopp on our podcast, and you should, you can hear the passion in his voice.
Kopp’s focus is on the students and the community around them. The school, started by chocolate magnate Milton Hershey in 1909, originally was built for orphans. Today, it serves low-income students and others with challenges. Many of the 2,000 students at the school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade and from 38 states around the country, have one or more parents who are incarcerated.
The school seeks to give students a life skill and break the cycle of poverty. The goal is to make each student employable or ready for higher education.
“I’m blessed to be at Milton Hershey School,” says Kopp. “The thing that makes me tick is community. And that's the beautiful thing about MHS. I put in all the passion because I'm surrounded by professionals around me that are putting in the passion.”
The dynamic at Milton Hershey School is different than public education, says Kopp. Parents, almost by definition of the school, are not active players. That allows teachers to play a different role as both instructor and for those “critical conversations” that lead to “meaningful connections” with kids.
“When I played sports in high school, on the ride home, my dad would kind of talk to me about like, you know ‘what did you do right? What did you do wrong?’” says Kopp. “And (that) kind of helped me focus on ‘how do I think myself through these things and then maybe think about the future. Dealing with the students here (at MHS), they don't necessarily always have those connections with an adult.”
Kopp’s background is in nursing. He started with EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) training in high school. His interest in medical care and emergency medical services may have started when his brother, then nine years old, was run over by a school bus. Kopp was one of the first on the scene. He felt “helpless” and vowed that would not happen again. He saw the importance of knowledgeable, fast care. (His brother survived and is fine.)
Kopp was certified as an EMT at age 18 and immediately started work in the small town of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. In fact, he worked for the St. Marys Ambulance Service while attending the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing there and then moved to Erie, Pennsylvania and worked in the ICU at Saint Vincent Hospital.
Kopp soon moved back home to St. Marys to tend to his father, who was a kidney transplant patient. That’s when Kopp started teaching at St. Marys Area High School, which emphasized the power of hands-on learning. For three years Kopp helped his father, taught school, worked as a nurse, and took the courses necessary to become a certified teacher. By the time he left St. Marys High School, the school had started a Certified Nurse Assistant program and one for EMT’s, too. In fact, Kopp had to go back into nursing for a year, this time working in long-term care, in order to teach the CNA course.
Today, Kopp has five years under his belt at MHS. He coaches freshman football, helps run the scoreboard for the swim team, and coaches track in the spring.
At MHS, Kopp has redesigned the school’s EMT program into a “more holistic” health science course. (The video of the podcast includes a complete walk-through of how Kopp has designed four years of study.)
Juniors take a very “career-focused” Anatomy and Physiology. This course, says Kopp, is the “make or break” class. As seniors, they will be more independent in studying in conjunction with Harrisburg Area Community College. Nine MHS students have gone on to complete their CNA program there and pass their nurse assistants test as well.
Kopp exposes his students to anatomy education through 3-D printing, through a program he designed that of the video game Minecraft. (Again, a great demonstration on the video.) Kopp has also led a field trip to Europe to study the history of healthcare in Scotland and England.
Kopp thought about attending an Anatomy in Clay® Learning System professional development program in New Jersey but COVID hit and the sessions were cancelled. More recently, he took a two-day virtual PD (in April, 2023) and is now set to introduce the models into his classrooms next fall.
Kopp says he found the two-day PD to be fast-paced. And “eye-opening for sure.” Instruction will be a “perfect fit,” he predicts, with the school’s heavy emphasis on hands-on learning.
“They're pumped,” says Kopp. “As soon as they saw the model that I made in the in the two-day seminar, they were like ‘when are we gonna do that?’ I'm excited to get them started.”
And we’re excited for the kids at MHS to have such a dedicated, thoughtful teacher.