In the midst of a spike of COVID-19 infections in Arizona, the future comes with a question mark. Students spent most of the spring semester at home, and summer hasn’t been that different. Sarah Sherman had big plans for the summer before her senior year, but when they were upended she managed to keep her goal in sight by temporarily shifting her means of achieving it.
Originally planning to follow scientists at the CDC in Atlanta to help prepare for a career in infectious diseases, she was ironically kept at home by one. Now she is using her summer to become an EMT in training. At 17 she’s to young to make it official, but she’s taking an expedited class so that when her birthday arrives in December she can take the exam and become certified.
Sherman attends BASIS Scottsdale, a charter school she describes as “highly competitive” and wanting “the best of the best.” Her academic bona fides fit with that ideal, but her more inclusive and community-focused nature peg her as an outlier — a role she’s comfortable in. She wants to build people up, encourage them and quite literally rescue them which she hopes will one day be her life’s work.
Tell us some of the good things about your school experience.
I do love my school. I’ve been in that competitive environment, but it doesn’t motivate me to pit myself against other people, but to try to go against the grain of what they’ve taught me and work together and try to create community.
I took this last semester and really focused on preparing myself for everything that could be thrown my way. “Leadership” is a student organization, and it’s in charge of every school dance, activity and event, and next year is when I really take control of it as co-president.
We have basically redesigned the entirety of what the group is and are changing it to be more fun and interactive. We have created committees to do school drives that educate people about things like national heritage months. We’re trying to get a calendar in our school board that is dedicated to this so in February when it’s Black History Month, we can put historical figures on it and just make the school a more accepting environment of all cultures and all backgrounds.
There’s also a committee for refugees, for which I'm on the board, where we work directly with the IRC to try to raise donations for them. We help them farm and advertise their products for them. It’s designed to help them integrate into society and help them feel like they can really start a life for themselves. They are coming from places they felt they needed to leave, and they’re coming here, and we’re trying to help them get their life started again.
With your interest in social justice, did you attend any of the protests?
I actually got to go to one in Old Town, and it was amazing to see. I am so happy I got to have that experience. It was so incredible to see everybody be so united for a common cause and be so empowered with wanting to change their community.
With those interests, what are you thinking about for a career?
I would eventually like to go to med school. This summer I was going to work with the CDC in Atlanta and shadow scientists, following them around to see what their lives are like and help with labs. Before the pandemic became what it is, I finally pinpointed what I was interested in, and that is epidemiology. I wanted to take every step to get into that field of science.
I was also going to intern at Lenox Hill in New York. But with coronavirus, I can’t travel, and everything was canceled. Now I’m very happy that I’m studying to become an EMT.
The class is in-person?
There are 18 people in the class, and we’re separated into two rooms so we each have our own space. Nine people are in a classroom all spread out, and TVs are streaming so sometimes we see the teacher on TV and sometimes in person. We switch off days who gets to have the teacher in the room.
It’s crazy, but it’s fun to be with people again in a class setting. I’m one of the few people who really enjoys school, and I just love being in an environment with other people and being able to learn all the same things. I like discussing what we’re learning, so I really enjoy this class a lot even though we’re jumping through hoops to make sure everything is safe. It’s a very cool environment.
What’s the program like so far?
I’ve only been to three classes, and we’ve already gone through eight chapters. Every day is information overload, because this course is usually 16 weeks long in the fall, but they’re offering a four-week program. It’s very high intensity — get the quizzes done, get the work done, look at these diagrams.
Yesterday we watched an autopsy and really saw everything that was happening and learned what to look at and analyze. Eventually I’m going to have the opportunity to walk into a room and have a fake scenario where someone could be having a heart attack, and I have to figure out the situation.
Watching an autopsy must have been shocking.
Nobody could tell, because we all wear masks, but my jaw was on the floor. I just could not believe what I was seeing. It was so different! I’ve dissected things before, but I’ve never come close to what I saw. It was really insane. Leading up to it they explain that if we’re not ready to see it, it’s OK to put our heads down or leave the room.
I was hesitant to watch it, but then afterwards it was so fascinating to me that this is what people do — this is what’s happening inside of our bodies. If this vein has a hole in it, then it can cause this problem and cause this other problem — it’s very interesting to me. I’m happy I have this experience, because when I see it in person it will probably be a lot more intense. But at least now I know that I’m not afraid and that I can be in that environment.
Did they warn you about some of the difficult things you could face in this work?
One of the things that scares me is to have a patient in critical condition who denies care. They have a right to do that, but the only thing we can do is talk to them and inform them as best as possible that they need the treatment and to be transported to a hospital because otherwise they might die.
The loophole is if they pass out, and then you can step in and take over. That’s implied consent. But I would not want to be part of that situation where I would have to wait until things got so bad they passed out, and I might not be able to help them.
A big part of why I’m happy to do this is because the world is in a pandemic, and I want to use this as security for my family so I have the tools to help them and my community which falls in line with what I want to do in the future. The CDC has a position called disease detective who tracks and traces disease all over the world. They go to the outbreak and work with the community to make sure it’s safe for everybody. They become integral to that community and see amazing things — amazing families and cultures. I hope I get to experience that one day.
Do you think being Jewish has an influence on your outlook?
Although I don’t belong to a synagogue, I’m in the Joyce Eva Kiviat chapter of BBYO. It has taught me about the importance of compassion, which has influenced me. Being surrounded by people who want nothing but to lift you up and to help you grow as an individual has truly inspired me to take action within my own community to make it the best it could be.
Becoming an EMT stems from a place of wanting to help others and to make them feel safe and secure which are things that BBYO has ingrained in my way of life. JN