Milaca High School students, faculty and administration pose for a picture last week along with officials from Pine Technical and Community College to recognize the school’s nursing assistant class. There are 19 students in the course, which started in January and ends in April. Upon completion, students will be Certified Nursing Assistants and will be able to work for local health care facilities. The idea behind the course started about two years ago when Principal Damian Patnode met with Laura Broberg from the Elim Home in Milaca.

Kaitlyn Kiel is pretty certain what direction she wants to take her career path. She loves helping people, so pursuing a nursing degree seems like a perfect fit for the Milaca senior.
You can imagine Kiel’s excitement when she learned Milaca High School would be offering a nursing assistant class on-campus – for free. When she completes the class in April, Kiel will be a certified nursing assistant.

“It’s amazing to have a program like this at our school,” said Kiel, one of 19 students in the nursing assistant class. “Usually it costs about $500-800, so getting this done at no cost and having a teacher who is also an RN (Marcy Sylvester) that is experienced is really cool. When she shares her stories, it gives us a little more insight about the field so we can relate.

“I’m very interested in the nursing field. When I go into college, I’ll already have my generals all done. I’ve been doing college classes in high school for a while. I want to become a neonatal nurse or neonatologist. I work at the Elim Home right now and I love the atmosphere, so when I get my CNA I want to continue there.” Principal Damian Patnode was one of the drivers behind getting this course to Milaca’s campus. The class started Jan. 25, and Patnode couldn’t be happier with what he’s seen so far.  “I talked about taking the opportunity. I talked about taking the opportunity to the kids when we met before the class even started,” Patnode said.  “I told them they going to be presented with opportunities in life and sometimes you take them, sometimes you don’t. I’m glad these kids took advantage of this one.”

“I’m proud of each of these students and I think it’s great they’re taking advantage of this opportunity,” Superintendent Tim Truebenbach said. “Programs like this also open the door to other possibilities, and in all honesty, I think our job as teachers is to show students the doors to other possibilities. This is a great step in that direction. I know it’s been a little bit challenging at times for the students, but I’m so glad they’re taking advantage of this.”
Process was long

The idea behind the course started about two years ago when Patnode met with Laura Broberg from the Elim Home in Milaca. The main discussion topic was how to solve an increasing labor gap in health care, specifically in nursing and long-term care.
After the meeting, Patnode started researching the idea of sending students to Pine Technical and Community College in Pine City, which offers an associated degree nursing program. Logistical problems arose, such as students coinciding their schedules with the college in addition to sharing instructors and trainers.

“There were just a lot of obstacles involved with that, and it was difficult to pull off,” Patnode said.

 Patnode had heard other high schools have offered certified nursing assistant classes with their students remaining on their own campuses. He contacted the principal in Mora, who referred him to a representative at Pine Tech. Patnode mentioned concerns about finding an instructor, which the Pine Tech administration assured wouldn’t be a problem.

“They said ‘We can get you an instructor,’” Patnode said.

To make a class of high technical nature succeed, the school needed to find proper equipment. Anything normally used in a hospital room, they needed.

Dozens of phone calls and emails later, Patnode has a long list of mostly donated equipment ready for use. Pine Tech supplied items such as sheets, night stands and bed pans. Six beds came from Winona State University, and M Health Fairview in Princeton supplied over-the-bed tables and scales. The donations meant Milaca only had to use $2,000 of school funds for equipment.

“I got a list of everything we’d need and I thought ‘how am I going to get all this equipment?’” Patnode said. “And things honestly started fall into place. I just started networking and reaching out to people in the community, and everybody had something to give to us.

“The list of equipment doesn’t look like much in the room, I only have about $2,000 into this room from school district resources. Everything else has been provided by the community and other organizations that we’re partnering with, and that’s awesome. All that work that goes in behind the scenes really fell together in the past four months. This is how we’re going to solve the labor gap issue for the short term and hopefully for the Milaca area.”
Extensive curriculum

The class meets from 7 to 9 a.m. three days per week. Sylvester is an RN who also teaches a similar class at Elk River High School, Pine Tech and other colleges. She directs most of the classroom activities, ranging from how to take care of patients’ basic needs to just being a good listener. These are skills students can use regardless of whether they choose health care as a career.

“They’re going to learn to take direct care of their residents,” said Sylvester, who is a certified nursing assistant state competency evaluator. “That means everything that they do in the morning, from eating, dressing, grooming and socializing. Everything you can think about depending on what the resident needs to meet their basic human needs is what we’re teaching them.

“Things like this are great for life skills. Even if they don’t use this in the workplace, just using them within their own family situations is useful. We’re working with them on what happens to our body as we get older. It’s a real life skill that gives them a deeper understanding of how we age. It’s a great entry way into a health care career.” The program is an effective recruiting tool for prospective Pine Tech students. Joe Mulford, Pine Tech president, also stressed the importance of teaching students life skills regardless of career choice. In addition, if they do choose health care, going through this program has been beneficial for advancement.

“What I love about these programs is it’s a unique pathway. Not everybody gets a chance to go to college while they’re in high school,” Mulford said. “We’ve had a longstanding partnership with Milaca. That’s been a culture here, and it’s not like that everywhere. The students are very fortunate to be going to Milaca.

“One of the things I’ve heard from employers and one of the things we see from our RNs and LPNs, if that’s a path they want to take, is that people who start off as CNAs are phenomenal as they move through those next levels. What I’ve always liked about the CNA track is it’s got career mobility. Maybe now, you’re a CNA and you’re working, you graduate from high school, but then maybe you want to go be an LPN. Or they can go get your bachelor’s in nursing as they go along. And many times when they do that, the employers are going to pay some tuition for them as they do. They can save a lot of money that way, and not every industry is like that.”
Jobs are waiting

Broberg also took a few minutes to address the students at last week’s program, which served as a “kickoff ceremony” of sorts. She said as soon as the students complete the course, she wants them to visit Elim Care Center. “We are so excited about this program,” Broberg said. “When they’ve completed this course and have their CNA license, we want them to come join our team. The students probably have a relative or a friend who is at Elim, so they’re already connected to our facility. Just by being in this class we know these kids have a heart for people, and we want that at our facility.”

From working at Elim Care, Kiel has an extensive jumpstart on her career goals. She is currently working with patients on their dietary needs, making sure they’re eating the right things and proper portions. In class, they’re also learning safety precaution procedures along with medical terminology to help communication with nurses.
For Kiel, it’s much more than that.

“We learn about mental, physical and emotional health and how that really is important,” Kiel said. “It’s not just for their physical care, but also for how they’re feeling and that sometimes all they might need is just for us to be there for them. I love taking care of the elderly.”
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