Favorite Teachers: First-year teacher inspires future doctors and nurses

Student: Ashlynn Heath

Teacher: Sarah Hurst, Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School

Career: Hurst is wrapping up her first year of teaching at MMAC, where she trains students to be certified nursing assistants. Hurst started her career as a CNA, and is now a registered nurse. She recommends that path to her students so they learn to appreciate CNAs as the “backbone” of the medical system.

Inspiration: From enthusiastically agreeing to play the Lorax in the senior play to cheering for students at competitions, Hurst brings a fresh energy to MMAC — a high-pressure charter school where most students graduate with around 60 college credits and at least one professional medical certification.

Do you have a favorite Idaho teacher you’d like to recognize? Contact editor Jennifer Swindell, [email protected], and we’ll share your story.

Teaching was never part of Sarah Hurst’s plan. 

She started her career at a nursing home, doing laundry and caring for residents. After getting her nursing degree, she worked in case management, emergency rooms, primary care and telemetry. She tried a little bit of everything. 

Sarah Hurst

But now, after her first year in the classroom at Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School, Hurst says she’s “found her calling.”

“It’s been the most amazing nine months ever,” Hurst said. “This is the best of both worlds.”

Part of Hurst’s teaching philosophy is vulnerability. 

With 15 years of nursing experience under her belt, Hurst wants to paint an accurate picture of the medical field for the students at MMAC — Idaho’s future doctors, nurses, EMTs and surgeons. 

From late nights and early mornings at the hospital to the harsh realities of being a certified nursing assistant, Hurst puts everything on the table — something recent MMAC graduate Ashlynn Heath says made class feel more honest, relatable and applicable. 

And one story left a profound impact on the class of 2023.

About one year before landing in the classroom, Hurst lost her hero and best friend.

She had spent over two years caring for her mom during her battle against Alzheimer’s disease. It became her full-time job after leaving the hospital. Hurst shared with students the emotional toll of caring for a loved one, and the harsh realities of the medical profession.

Her students took the story to heart.

On World Alzheimer’s Day — just one month into her first year of teaching — Hurst arrived at school to see nearly 200 high schoolers dressed up in purple to honor her mother’s legacy. Heath and her classmates made a T-shirt inscribed with “I wear purple for my mom,” signed their names on the back, and gave it to their teacher.

MMAC students wore purple to honor Hurst and her late mother, who passed with Alzheimer’s.

Taken aback by her students’ thoughtful gesture, Hurst framed the shirt and hung it on her classroom wall — next to a photo of her mom.

The students’ gesture was a testament to Hurst’s impact as a first-year teacher. 

Students at MMAC are go-getters — and they’re under immense pressure. Stress is high, especially for the seniors, who graduate with around 60 college credits, and spend the bulk of their senior year vying for spots in the nation’s top pre-med and science programs. Their high school graduation rate is 97% and their college go-on rate is nearly double the state’s rate. 

It’s a lot to put on a 17-year-old’s shoulders, said Heath. But Hurst’s endless encouragement and words of wisdom helped her persevere. 

Whether it was a light-hearted chat or a vent session, the senior made a habit of stopping into her favorite teacher’s classroom for emotional support and consolation during a turbulent senior year.

Hurst’s classroom was always open — students could pop in for a visit or to work on classwork and college applications. She listened to students’ needs when they felt overworked and burnt out, and she cheered them on at state competitions. 

She even agreed to play the Lorax — and make her own costume — for the senior play. Typically, parts in the play are reserved for students, but Heath said the senior class couldn’t resist asking their teacher to get involved. 

“She supports us and really listens to us…she lets us complain,” said Heath. “We just love her.” 

“I don’t love the movie, but the kids asked me,” said Hurst, laughing. “I’m excited they wanted me to be a part of it.”

To end the year, Hurst agreed to be the commencement speaker.  She was the Class of 2023’s first choice. 

“These kids are thoughtful. … I care about them so much,” Hurst said. “They’ve cried with me, they’ve laughed with me; I’ve cried with them, I’ve laughed with them. It’s a pretty rigorous school and the expectations are pretty high here, so to be a part of their journey is just very humbling.”

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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