By Elizabeth Dobbins
FITCHBURG — Some students will have the chance to qualify as Certified Nursing Assistants before receiving even their high school diploma through a new program at Fitchburg High School, a result of a partnership with Mount Wachusett Community College.
“We talk with the students about how the health care field is one of the fastest growing fields,” said Pamela Rivers, director of nursing and health service in the Fitchburg school district.
Through this program at Fitchburg High School, but taught by a MWCC instructor, students can start taking steps toward a career in this expanding field, she said.
Starting this year, ten students annually can take a year-long course, which moves from lectures on theory in the first semester to clinical work in the spring, according to Melissa Bourque-Silva, director of the Workforce Diversity Pipeline at MWCC.
Eventually, the students will move from working with electronic mannequins in a high school classroom to learning through interactions at a Leominster nursing home.
By the end of the program students will have earned five college credits, CPR certification and eligibility to both work as a home health aid and take the CNA certification test.
“They could get a job, start working in the field, which is going to help them onto their next step,” Bourque-Silva said.
The program is funded through a five-year federal grant from Health and Human Services office in Minority Health that the college received in 2015. The grant sets aside $450,000 annually for Project Healthcare chapters in the region, including the 60 Fitchburg High School sophomores and juniors enrolled in the program.
“The goal (of Project Healthcare) is to increase minority students and underrepresented students in healthcare careers,” Bourque-Silva said.
Last school year, these students took a health-care careers class, attended field trips and listened to guest lectures from health care professionals.
Students involved in the program have priority on the new course, but if there’s space others may be able to enroll as well, according to Bourque-Silva.
She said six students have already signed up for the course, which begins the first week of September.
Funding for the program is secured until 2020, but Rivers said the district hopes to continue beyond the end of the current grant.
“The intent is to go to 2020 and beyond,” she said.
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