FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Holly Moten Fidler, Danica Wiredja, Me'lani Labat Joseph and Susanne Wish-Baratz
Photography by Roger Mastroianni

Kids in Cleveland are going to camp, but they’re not going to ride horses or climb on a ropes course. They’re going to LEARN ABOUT ANATOMY — and have fun doing it.

What began in 2009 as a single activity for urban kids attending Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) summertime National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) has sprouted into three different anatomy camps that put the “fun” in the fundamentals of anatomy and good health all year.

Through interactive sessions created and taught by CWRU medical students, middle school and high school kids in greater Cleveland learn anatomy principles such as reading a nutrition label or understanding the contrary effects of exercise and smoking on the respiratory system. According to medical-student coordinator Michael Hermelin, in 2013 almost all of the 500-plus NYSP participants came to the medical school for an anatomy-camp experience. To date, more than 1,000 kids have attended these camps.

The first, NYSP Summer Anatomy Camp, a ­program within NYSP, has been in place since 2009 for youth attending the CWRU summer program. The second, Case Anatomy Camp, began in 2012 and brings local middle and high school students in during the academic year. The most recent, the North Star Collaborative (NSC) Anatomy Camp, was established in spring 2013 thanks to a single grant from the Weatherhead Institute for Family Medicine and Community Health and the Clinical & Translational Science Collaborative at the CWRU School of Medicine. The NSC program, in its inaugural year, runs parallel to the other camps and pairs med-student mentors with about 40 girls from Cleveland’s Metropolitan School District who participate in Laurel School’s North Star Collaborative. These middle school girls learn about wellness and anatomy while tracking their physical health and well-being over the course of a year, with the first group finishing this spring.

For more about the anatomy camps, visit

The idea for these camps was hatched by Dr. ­Susanne Wish-Baratz, Ph.D., assistant professor for CWRU’s department of anatomy and, according to Wish-Baratz, a group of “very enthusiastic” medical students, as well as Wish-Baratz’s partner Me’lani ­Labat Joseph, director of engineering for the ­Leonard Gelfand STEM Center, a collaboration ­between the Case School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. Other partners, like Holly Moten Fidler, a director at NSC, and medical-­student mentors, like Ph.D. and M.D. candidate Danica Wiredja, have been critical to the programs’ success. Here, the four share their thoughts on the camps.

AMERICAN WAY: Why anatomy camps? Why is it so important to teach anatomy to these kids?
SUSANNE WISH-BARATZ: We are located in an urban environment, and there are health issues and kids who could use our support. These camps provide concrete and tangible ways to understand what’s going on in our bodies.

AW: What’s surprised you about the program?
DANICA WIREDJA: I’ve been most surprised (in a good way) by the students’ enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. They ask very sophisticated questions, many concerning material we’ve just covered in our med-school curriculum.
ME'LANI LABAT JOSEPH: I’ve been pleased, though not surprised, to see the energy the med students bring to this program and how impactful it is on them as well as the kids.

AW: Med students get no class credit or compensation for this. What’s in it for them?
This is an unparalleled ­opportunity for med students, often from other places, to teach and work in an urban community. There are stresses of urban life that are reality here.
SWB: These are outstanding scholars and human beings. They love to learn, and they love to help people. The reward is that light-bulb moment when the kids get it. That’s the payment.

AW: Can you think of an activity that was particularly effective in generating that “ah-ha!” moment for the kids?
DW: I remember visitors and instructors being shocked when seeing a real set of smoker’s lungs. They walked out saying they’ll never smoke and will encourage family members to quit.

AW: What do you want the camps to achieve?
I hear the NSC girls talking about what they learned and choosing to be more active, even saying things like, “I want to be a doctor.”
MLJ: I want kids to be exposed to things outside their neighborhoods, to think about what they want and maybe find a passion or a career, and go make a difference in the world.