Making the Grade: Gwinnett high schoolers learn veterinary medicine

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On the list of possible extracurricular high school activities, neutering a bull has to be one of the most unusual. But it’s on Kylie Reed’s resume as part of the experience she gained working with the Veterinarians Club at Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners.

“I have neutered dogs, cats, alpacas and goats as well,” said the 17-year-old senior. “The bull was hard because it kept waking up during the surgery.”

That up-close, hands-on practice is the hallmark of the club created by biology teacher Dr. William “Skipper” Gholston. The former veterinarian had a practice in Peachtree Corners for 25 years before retiring to teach and coach baseball at Wesleyan. That second career has lasted for 19 years, during which time Gholston never gave up working with animals.

“I just did it in a different way by involving the students,” he said. “When I started the club 15 years ago, I funded it myself and handpicked a few students to work with me. But so many people wanted to do it, we opened it up to the school. I can only manage about 20, but I have 100 on a waiting list.”

Gholston works with three animal rescue facilities and also takes animals referred from other vets to his property in Dahlonega, where he has a small surgery. Many of the creatures have been injured or abandoned.

“We’ve worked on animals with gunshots, cats with broken legs, even a horse who’d been hit by a car,” said Gholston. “We do surgery, fix the problems, then give them back so they can be trained as service animals. We don’t charge for the work, but the school helps us out with costs, which is great - my wife is no longer mad at me.”

Gholston estimates that he and his club members provide the equivalent of $10,000 in free services each year. The work is done after school hours and on the weekends year round.

“And they’re not just watching; they’re helping me do the surgery,” he said. “I’ve trained them to do procedures shoulder-to-shoulder with me. You’d be shocked at how good some of these kids are. They get nothing but the satisfaction and stimulation of learning. They’re all interested in science and want to make the world a better place.”

The combination of work she found “fascinating” and community service drew Reed into the club two years ago.

“We dissected pigs in Dr. Gholston’s honors biology course, and that was interesting,” she said. “When he told me about the opportunity to help him with animals, he drew me in. I started working with him after school, and soon, I couldn’t find anything else that was as much fun.”

The experience has inspired Reed to consider majoring in a medical-related field in college. She won’t be the first club graduate to do so.

“I’ve had probably a dozen students who have gone into veterinary science, pharmacy or dental or medical school,” said Gholston. “I don’t have this club just to get vets but to get students to learn medical procedures and develop an interest in science while helping animals and people.”