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Learning hands on

The second floor of St. Francis in the Park was awash in activity Monday evening. As residents ate their dinner in the main room, students from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College flitted up and down hallways into residents' rooms. The student...

The second floor of St. Francis in the Park was awash in activity Monday evening.

As residents ate their dinner in the main room, students from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College flitted up and down hallways into residents' rooms.

The students were finishing one of their last days of class for the college's nursing assistant basic program. Among the 30 students in the class were six Superior High School juniors and seniors learning alongside their older peers.

The WITC class is better than high school because it's hands-on learning and it allows students to focus on just one topic, said Megan Bieroth.

In high school students jump from subject to subject. And after switching classes they just sit for the hour, but for the nursing assistant program students learn through demonstration and working with residents, she said.

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Working with residents is an eye opener. The conversations a person has with them are different then those someone their own age, she said.

The high school students have spent most of the last month -- four days a week from 4 to 9 p.m. -- learning and working with residents at St. Francis.

Some attended class after a full day of courses at SHS. Most days the students are lucky to get an hour break between their high school and WITC classes, they said.

The students are participating in a program run through a partnership by WITC and SHS designed to reach at-risk students with hands-on, career-focused classes. SHS pays about $225 per teen for the courses.

The two institutions piloted the program this summer with a class of 11 students who took courses in industrial maintenance side-by-side with WITC students and earned credit toward the industrial maintenance technician degree, said Charlie Glazman, WITC teacher.

Seven students, most of them juniors, completed the summer courses and continued the program this fall. When they finish their classes this spring they will have completed 12 credits toward a 66 credit degree, he said.

This winter, 20 students are taking classes in four disciplines -- nursing, barber/cosmetology, industrial maintenance and construction trades. Glazman was surprised with the rate of the program's growth, most of which was spurred by students who asked for more program options.

The SHS students in the nursing assistant class took their class because they're interested in a medical career, getting a good paying job for the summer or using the class for their senior project, they said.

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The course quickly took them from the classroom to practicing nursing care.

On the second day of the four-week class, WITC moves its nursing assistant students from the college to St. Francis for the class where they experience call signals and ambulances; sights and sounds familiar to nursing assistants on the job, said teacher Kathy Kitter-Carey said.

Shortly after the switch, students moved into an empty resident room to learn range of motion exercises and other techniques before working with residents who have Alzheimer's or a hip or knee replacement, she said.

Students this young working with residents ranging in age from 40 to 105 deserve a lot of credit. Not everyone can offer the intimate level of care required of a nursing assistant, especially at that age.

WITC offers the program to anyone older than 16 and often has a few high school students taking the class, Kitter-Carey said.

All six students graduated from the program Tuesday evening on the last day of class and deserve the certificate they earned, she said.

The students are now eligible to take the state's competency exam to be placed on the Wisconsin Nurse Aide Registry. Just like the rest of students in the class, if they pass that test they'll be able to work as nursing assistants earning $10 per hour on average, she said.

Most of the high schoolers were already making plans Monday to take the test and start looking for a job.

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At-risk students in all four disciplines are taking the same college classes as WITC students. These classes aren't watered down, so it's a rude awakening for the kids -- they have to work hard to succeed in life, said Bill Punyko, SHS assistant principal.

"It's been kind of exciting to see these kids start to care about something and that they might actually have a future in this community," he said.

Kids who are at-risk of dropping out of school don't have a lot of direction in their lives. It's hard to get them motivated to look toward the future. If they're failing; they quit trying, so the school is constantly looking for ways to get them to start trying again, he said.

The WITC program is a complement to SHS's Dropout Recovery program, which allows students who are too far behind in credits to graduate earn a high school diploma by finishing courses required for graduation and passing the General Education Diploma testing, Punyko said.

It's more involved than the General Education Diploma because Dropout Recovery students must complete required courses, a senior project and work or attend college courses when not in school.

All the students taking WITC courses are in Dropout Recovery, working toward the program or at-risk of falling into a position where Dropout Recovery is their only possibility for earning a high school diploma, he said.

About 42 SHS seniors are in the Dropout Recovery program this year. Students must earn a spot in the program by demonstrating they are serious about their education. One way to do that is through succeeding in a WITC course, he said.

WITC classes work for these students because they're much more hands-on than high school courses, Glazman said. WITC's goal through the program is to engage at-risk students early with hands-on courses and get them to complete their high school obligations and continue with WITC to complete the programs they've started, he said.

"It's a great program," he said. "The district is really trying to engage these students and involve them in careers that will benefit all of us."

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram.com .

Related Topics: EDUCATIONSUPERIOR
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