By Gary Walker

LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner greets sports medicine teacher Kirsten Farrell (left) and gets a demonstration
of the program’s anti-gravity treadmill from distinguished alum Ariel Guldstrand

When high-profile visitors tour Venice High School, Kirsten Farrell’s sports medicine class is almost always on the itinerary. Last Tuesday’s start-of-school visit by LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner was no exception.

In a large classroom at the back of campus, Venice High’s competitively selected sports medicine students work with Farrell to master the use rehabilitation equipment, but they’re always poised to sprint out to one of the school’s athletic practices to tend to an injured student athlete.

The program, now in its 16th year, is one of only six in LAUSD to have certified athletic trainers, and students serve as co-trainers during school sporting events. In addition to textbook anatomy and physiology, students learn to prevent, treat and evaluate injuries and to master practical applications including first aid, CPR, taping, splinting, massaging, icing and best practices for sports injury rehabilitation.

Because the program is designated technical education, Farrell has been able to leverage state and federal grants to purchase specialized equipment such as an anti-gravity treadmill and a digital touch-screen anatomage table (like a giant physiology iPad).

“We’re providing students with both academic and hands-on knowledge,” said Farrell, one of only five teachers statewide feted as a 2018 California Teacher of the Year. “This is technology that students will be working with when they become health care professionals.”

Distinguished alumni of the program include Dr. Hardik Parikh, a gastroenterologist at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, and Ariel Guldstrand, a certified athletic trainer at UCLA. Both returned for Beutner’s visit.

Like many students in the sports medicine program, Parikh hadn’t pictured himself as a doctor before he met Farrell.

“I enjoyed the sciences, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he recalled. “When I went to Cal we had a similar program, but it’s Kirsten who helped get me on this career track.”

Guldstrand, a former Venice High basketball and volleyball player, said she had aspired to a culinary career, but “then I was injured, and Kirsten helped me through my injury. When I decided that athletic training was what I wanted to do, she helped me find accredited schools. ”

The peer-to-peer component of students helping to treat classmates is a big part of what makes the program really special, the alumni said.

“In athletic training and sport training, the relationships that you build are important. Kirsten gives the students a lot of accountability and equips them with the skills so that they can act on and influence their peers. I knew when I was in the program, if anything happened at practices we would go out there and act,” Guldstrand recalled.

“The foundation of health care is relationships,” Parikh added. “You get to know the players and your co-trainers … The biggest thing when someone gets hurt on a Friday night is for them to trust you and tell you exactly what happened.”

Beutner said Venice High’s sports medicine program and other standout LAUSD programs he visited last week exemplify the great things public schools can accomplish when the district builds programing around the student experience.

“Our goal is to make sure that we support the unique needs of each student at each school. For decades Los Angeles Unified has been the other way around, with a top-down kind of bureaucracy. My goal is to turn that on its head right-side up, where the school is on top and the students on top. And this journey has been to show that despite the myths out there, we do extraordinary things,” Beutner said.