EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
When most of their classmates were enjoying the freedom of Spring Break, 10 Llano High School health sciences program students were spending several hours a day at Kingsland Hills Care Center and opening doors to a future career.
The students were taking a Certified Nurse Assistant program, which included 60 hours of classroom study and 40 hours of practicum, or hands-on experience.
“The nurses aid is invaluable,” said Karen Hennigan, the school’s health sciences teacher. “They help feed people, clean people, and so many things. About seventy percent of the things I do as a nurse are nurse’s aid skills. You’re always using them.”
Hennigan, a registered nurse and teacher, helped create Llano High School’s nursing and health sciences program, which is in its second year.
It’s part of the Llano Independent School District’s effort to develop career-technical education classes. When Llano High School Principal Jeni Neatherlin arrived on campus three years ago, she set her sights on building up the Career and Technology Education program. The campus offered welding but didn’t provide a path for students to earn welding certifications.
The need for CTE classes, especially in health sciences, became more evident to Neatherlin after she attended a Texas Workforce Commission workshop during the 2016-17 academic year. It described the future job environment in the state.
“They basically laid out what areas in the workforce are needed,” Neatherlin said. “Health services was at the top.”
Llano High School didn’t have a health services program, but it did have Hennigan, the campus nurse, who also had several years of teaching experience before becoming an RN.
School officials surveyed students to determine the interest in a health sciences program. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Hennigan has 14 students in her one class. The program is currently open to juniors and seniors.
The course isn’t just a CNA-prep course. Students start off by studying anatomy, physiology, and similar health sciences-related topics.
“It teaches them basic anatomy and physiology, medical terms, traits of a good worker, confidence, and even legal and ethical requirements,” Hennigan said. “It’s pretty comprehensive.”
The program offers hands-on training in a room with real medical equipment, including a hospital bed. Students rotate through a number of stations as they learn the skills that could give them leverage in the future job market.
On Tuesdays, students work rotations at several health-related businesses and organizations.
Hennigan pointed out that with a CNA certificate, students can get jobs that pay $12-$15 an hour versus a lower-wage of $8-$10 an hour.
The CNA course, funded by the district and Kingsland Hills Care Center, showed those 10 students on Spring Break what it’s like to work in the health sciences.
Senior Gauge Mills admitted he had a certain image of what a care facility would be like, but Kingsland Hills shattered those preconceived notions.
“It was nice being there,” he said. “It wasn’t what I thought it would be like.”
The students worked alongside staff, learning how to care and assist residents and patients. Senior Elda Fayela learned how invaluable the nursing aid’s role is as many patients require assistance with eating, getting dressed, and moving.
After completing the two-week study, the students are preparing for the CNA exam in early May.
“It’s a hard test,” Hennigan said. “There’s a written part and practicum.”
During the practicum, examiners will call out five skills for a examinee to perform. Under the CNA course, the students learn 23 skills, so examiners can pick any five of those.
“They have to do it step by step, in the right order,” Hennigan said.
Each skill has a series of steps, some as many as 18. Even on the most complex CNA skills, the student must complete them in the correct order.
“That’s after they’ve completed the written exam,” Hennigan said.
With almost two years on the books, the Llano High School health sciences program is just getting started. It’s one way the district continues to ensure students are ready for 21st century careers, whatever those might look like in the future.