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Olivia Rhodes, an 11th-grader from Brattleboro, and Pooja Meyer, a 12th-grader from Guilford, pose with “Rescue Anne,” a CPR training mannequin, in the Windham Regional Career Center’s Licensed Nursing Assistant lab.

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For high schoolers, program opens doors to nursing

Windham Regional Career Center LNA program to help students keep options open and quality for higher-paying jobs

BRATTLEBORO—A new nursing course at the Windham Regional Career Center promises to connect students to jobs while also prepare them for future educational opportunities.

The Nursing and Health Careers program aims to create multiple bridges into the health-care field.

“We’re offering eight health-careers courses, six of which offer dual college credit,” said Paul Cohen, a consultant with the Career Center.

Cohen explained that a new course that started in January “will provide the opportunity for students to gain meaningful and relatively decent paying work as state licensed nursing assistants (LNAs) after they graduate high school.”

The nursing course, launched this semester with all 14 of its seats filled, includes hands-on experience for students, who will spend 40 hours of clinical work experience at both a hospital and a long-term-care facility.

The highlight of this program is the opportunity for students to take the exam to qualify for a state license as an LNA.

Cohen said the Career Center staff wants to give high school students multiple pathways to their future — a future that can include college and the workforce.

The Career Center has 400 seats available for students in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union and Hinsdale, N.H. The health-care program offers 130 seats. The new nursing course has 14 seats.

“Our motto is: lots of ways in, lots of ways out,” Cohen said.

By having multiple options available, the students can choose when to continue their education and when to enter the workforce, he continued.

Cohen and the program’s co-creator, WRCC Director Tom Yahn, feel confident that students holding the LNA license will receive immediate job offers at local medical facilities.

The Career Center is partnering with local institutions, including Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Vermont Technical College, where students will have the opportunity to visit and learn from some of the people working in the field.

Cohen said, “We’ve additionally signed a memorandum of understanding with Vermont Technical College to provide our students with opportunities for guest speakers, campus tours, and regular visits to their nursing program’s classrooms and labs.”

“Our hope is that this will prove to be a pipeline for interested students to attend college locally and to remain local as they commence with their careers,” he added.

Fine-tuning course offerings to maximize earning potential

A report by the J. Warren and Louis McClure Foundation inspired the Nursing and Health Careers Program, said Yahn, who oversees the Windham Regional Collegiate High School, a dual-enrollment program that allows high-school students to earn college credit.

The foundation report identified 62 professions in Vermont classified as in demand and “high paying.”

Medical and nursing were at the top of the list, Cohen said, and the health-care jobs in that category started at $22 per hour. In-demand careers include nursing, massage therapists, dental hygienists, clinical and school psychologists, and pharmacists.

Jobs on the list also include diesel-engine mechanics, water-treatment-plant operators, head chefs, police officers, and tax preparers.

Yahn said the report contained great information but no instructions on how to make entering the listed professions “real.”

As he read it, the report challenged educational institutions to check that their classes offered what students needed to enter these high-paying jobs.

So they did.

As a result, “We’ve had a lot of fun with this program,” said Cohen, who said it was two years in the making. The Career Center already taught many of the health-related prerequisite courses for college, many of which can qualify a student for college credit.

But the programs lacked opportunities for students to get their hands dirty or interact with professionals, Cohen said.

Partnering with the community is key to this program, too, he said, adding that the more community institutions participate in students’ learning, the more prepared students will be to work in the community after graduation.

Conversations with staff at Vermont Technical College helped to shape the new program as well, Yahn said.

According to Yahn, VTC staff expressed the concern that many of the young-adult students struggled in the college’s nursing programs because they lacked sufficient hands-on field experience.

Yahn said the Career Center responded by fortifying its academic programs with more field work and meetings with professionals so students will “understand the demands of the field.”

He pointed to a second mission of the dual-credit program. The Collegiate High School also seeks to connect with first-generation college students, he said.

The dual-credit courses taught at the Career Center help prepare students for college-level academics, Yahn said. But in most cases, the courses are really about expanding the students’ comfort zones, he said.

The Career Center has gone so far as to set up a clinical site for the LNA program. Off a hallway near the cafeteria in the center is a practice clinic, newly furnished with hospital beds donated by Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and other medical equipment.

Cohen shows the room with pride. On one of the beds waits “Rescue Anne,” a CPR-training mannequin.

The program will offer an employment edge to students. “A successful student from our program will be given strong consideration for acceptance into their [VTC] program,” Cohen said.

Program ‘a good springboard’ for students

Elizabeth (Becky) J. Steele, RN, MSN knew as kid that she wanted to go into health care but had no one to guide her. The site director of the VTC Brattleboro/Springfield campuses feels her story is common for many high-school students.

“To start the LNA program is massive,” she said.

Many students interested in nursing don’t fully understand what nurses do or the role they play in a health-care setting, said Steele, adding, “I’m very proud of them.”

She believes VTC and the Career Center’s partnership serves an important outreach role as much as it does an educational one.

A prospective nursing student needs strong study skills, the patience to read through a lot of material, and to acquire skills in science and critical thinking, she said.

“Math is a must in nursing,” Steele added.

The Career Center’s other health-care programs will serve as a “good segue” into VTC’s nursing program if students want to continue their nursing education, she said.

If students have missed any prerequisites, Community College of Vermont can step in as a resource.

LNAs wash patients, they feed them, and they meet family members, Steele continued. As a result, she said, LNAs are usually the first people to spot changes in the patient’s health.

Leaving high school with an LNA license “is a good springboard into a next step,” whether that next step is school or the workforce, she said.

“LNAs are the backbone of the nursing profession,” Steele said, describing them as “the eyes and ears of the patients.”

They are, she said, “absolutely indispensable.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #498 (Wednesday, February 20, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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