Northwestern High School graduates first class of CNAs
By the time the class ended, two of the seven students had already received job offers.
MAPLE — Northwestern High School graduated its first class of certified nursing assistants Monday, June 27.
Two of the seven students, junior Cam Trznka and Hunter Follis, a 2022 NHS graduate, have already been offered jobs at Aspen Health and Rehab in the town of Hawthorne, where they did their hands-on clinical training.
“There’s a huge need but it’s nationwide. These kids could get a job any place they want, really,” said Debra Latscher, the Northwood Technical College instructor who taught the class.
Northwood runs certified nursing assistant classes monthly, she said, and numbers have been stable. The pandemic shut down practical work at area nursing homes for two years, however.
“This is the first class in our area that went back into the nursing home since COVID,” Latscher said.
That personal connection with elderly residents made an impact on students.
“I think the most rewarding part was when we were at clinicals and we were actually working with them and helping them, one-on-one with them,” said Mercede Mullikin, a 2022 NHS graduate who took the class.
Junior Shelby Driscoll has her sights set on a career as a nurse anesthesiologist and saw the class as a stepping stone to that. She was initially concerned about what it would be like to provide personal care to elderly residents, everything from brushing their teeth to ambulating them.
“But then when I got to the clinicals, it was actually really easy. And I bonded with a lot of the patients, which was really nice,” said Driscoll.
“Even if you’re not going to be a nurse or anything in the future, I still think it’s a really good tool to have, because you learn a lot of things that you could do for other people," she said.
Follis had never been in a nursing home before his training at Aspen.
“I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, but I loved it. Looking back it was one of the best things I ever did,” Follis said. “You really connect with the residents on a personal level. And we wrote thank you notes before they left and some of them cried and they’re saying, like, ‘Oh, we hope you promise to come back soon.’”
He will. Working up to two days a week at Aspen would be his fourth job — the 2022 graduate also bartends at a golf course, does yard work and works at VIP in Superior.
Follis said completing the CNA course will put him a step ahead when he starts school at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for nursing in the fall. All nursing students are required to earn their CNA certification, he said.
Years in the making
Crafting a CNA course for high school students in Maple took years of planning.
“This program has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Jennifer Forsythe, at-risk and school-to-work coordinator for the high school.
It took a web of connections and community support, as well as funding from a number of sources to break down possible barriers for students and launch the class.
“I just keep hearing from the workforce ‘We need CNAs, we need more people in our workforce.’ So I just kept talking to people and building connections and asking how can we make this happen, and also make it happen for our rural students,” Forsythe said.
Offering it as a summer class, instead of an after-school program, allowed students who would otherwise be involved in athletics and activities to participate. If the class had been offered after school, Driscoll wouldn’t have been able to attend. She’s involved in a slew of activities and sports, from basketball and track to FBLA and student council.
“All of the kids did a really good job, but it was neat to see how excited she was about it,” said Driscoll’s mother, Melissa.
Having a dedicated class space filled with equipment instead of traveling into Superior for classes broke down the transportation barrier. Funding through the Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program paid for course costs so students could take it for free.
“Our whole theme of our game is getting kids into the workforce and into high demand jobs, you know, to kind of fill that hole,” said Sara White, youth service specialist with the program.
She encouraged young people seeking education in high demand jobs to contact her at 715-392-6081 or firstname.lastname@example.org if they need financial help with course fees, materials like scrubs or books.
"We can probably help them pay for it," White said.
Home Medical Products & Services operations manager Jessie Trautline donated much of the equipment needed to run the class at NHS.
“We’re actually really honored to be part of this program. The medical field always needs workers, so to be able to assist these kids, even with just the equipment, it makes it really rewarding for me as a provider,” said Trautline, who has been in the nursing field for more than 20 years.
She made the donation to help the school and was pleasantly surprised when her daughter, Mullikin, later signed up for the inaugural class.
“I want to be a labor and delivery nurse one day,” said Mullikin. The course “helped me realize that I actually do really want to do it.”
The next step for Northwestern High School is uncertain. A CNA class could be built into the school day and offered to NHS students. It could branch out to include students from other districts. A personal care worker course, which requires fewer hours, could be offered.
"My hope is that this will continue," Forsythe said.
This story originally contained the incorrect phone number for Sara White. It was updated at 9 a.m. July 4, 2022 with the proper number, 715-392-6081. The News Tribune regrets the error.