Pilot Program Gives Students Unique Opportunities

Pilot Program Gives Students Unique Opportunities
Posted on 10/13/2022

CLIFTON FORGE — Alleghany Highlands Public Schools and other school divisions are partnering with Mountain Gateway Community College to give high school seniors a taste of opportunities available in the rapidly-growing health-care industry.


The Advanced Health Care certificate program is a pilot program at Mountain Gateway that provides high school seniors with comprehensive training for careers in the clinical medical assistant and certified nurse aide fields. It also provides students with training to cross over to more than 100 different fields in health care.  By earning the two entry-level health-care credentials in medical assistant and nurse aide, students completing the program are well-positioned to consider a variety of career options in helping others.  


“This is a one-year program, and it allows students to preview all of these different programs in healthcare,” said Tiffany Rosales, a registered nurse who is serving as the health care programs coordinator for Workforce Solutions and Community Education at Mountain Gateway.


Alleghany Highlands Public Schools worked with Mountain Gateway Community College and other school divisions to help develop Advanced Health Care Professional as a Career and Technical Education Program. Known as CTE, Career and Technical Education provides students of all ages with academic skills, technical skills, and training to continue their education or succeed in future careers According to Advance CTE in Silver Spring, Md., approximately 12.5 million high school and college students are enrolled in CTE programs across the nation.  


The program fits well with AHPS’s Alleghany Highlands Healthcare Advancement (AHHA) initiative to assist students in exploring health sciences careers.  The initiative is being used to help high school students earn their diploma, industry certification, and an associate degree from a community college.


“Alleghany Highlands Public Schools is always willing and grateful to work with Mountain Gateway Community College to help our students, community, and region advance our educational offerings and programs. The Advanced Health Care program gives students a great opportunity to move forward in their chosen careers with another pathway to reach their goals. We are extremely proud of the students that are a part of this new program,” said Dwayne Ross, director of secondary education for Alleghany Highlands Public Schools.


This fall, which marks the first year of the program, Advanced Health Care has three AHPS students. Rosales intends to expand enrollment by getting the word out to schools within Mountain Gateway Community College’s coverage area that includes Bath County, Alleghany County, Rockbridge County, and the northern section of Botetourt County. Schools within the coverage zone are Alleghany High School, Covington High School, Bath County High School, James River High School, Rockbridge High School, Parry McCluer High School, and the Botetourt Technical Education Center as well as the Jackson River Technical Center.


Funding for Advanced Health Care is provided through FastForward, a grant program at Mountain Gateway that is designed to assist students in getting the necessary training they need for their chosen career field. Students desiring to become a CNA would enter a profession that is expected to grow by 9 percent through 2028. The U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says CNAs earn an average salary of $30,190 per year. The annual pay for a clinical medical assistant averages at $37,190 per year. The demand for CMAs was projected to grow by 16 percent from 2021 to 2031.  Additionally, both fields can serve as a wonderful stepping stone to additional health care credentials including but not limited to emergency medical technician, licensed practical nurse, and registered nurse.  


“If you are a certified nurse aide, you could make $17 to $19 per hour right out of high school and only work three days a week with benefits,” Rosales said.


That situation, she says, would be ideal for recent graduates who also want to attend college to further their education.


AHPS Superintendent Kim Halterman and Assistant Superintendent Melinda Snead-Johnson concur.


“As a former CTE administrator, I have seen firsthand how many wonderful opportunities can open up to students who gain solid entry-level credentials.  I have seen students become dedicated long-time health care employees at the level of their initial credential and have also seen students use their initial credential to advance along other pathways,” said Halterman. 


For instance, a student who wishes to become a physical therapist will be better suited to consider that plan after having worked hands-on with patients in a program such as Advanced Health Care or JRTC’s Nurse Aide program.


In Alleghany Highlands Public Schools, Jackson River Technical Center is the first option for a student considering a career in health care. The Nurse Aide/Health Occupations program at JRTC is a two-year program, and students must enroll in their junior year of high school. Advanced Health Care Professional seeks to attract students who are still weighing their career path in their senior year.


“Jackson River Technical Center offers an excellent program. I am not competing with Jackson River Technical Center. I am Plan B. I am offering a one-year program that is very rigorous and is only eligible to high school seniors,” Rosales said.


"I think this program is a great opportunity for those students who decide late in high school that they are interested in a healthcare career,” said Johnell Cantrell, who serves as nurse aide/health occupations instructor at JRTC.


The idea for the Advanced Health Care Program at Mountain Gateway Community College originated with discussions in Bath and Highland counties where local officials and educators are interested in ways to retain high school graduates. Rural areas such and Alleghany, Bath, and Highland counties struggle to retain graduates due to a lack of jobs.


In health care, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive shifts in the labor market, but rural communities like the Alleghany Highlands have always faced shortages and issues in recruiting and retaining workers in the field.  


Rosales wants to help reverse that trend through job development and training for high school seniors through the Advanced Health Care Professional Program. Students who complete AHP training and earn a passing score on the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program certification exam and the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant certification exam will have the foundation, skills, and credentials that are needed to work in the modern health care environment.   


“I would love to see this program become a lifesaver for this community,” she said.  


Its position as part of the AHHA initiative helps the school division better partner with the community college.  


AHHA is being funded by a $497,756 Career and Technical Education High School Innovation Grant from the Virginia Department of Education.


The grant is being used to provide students with additional education in health science so they have entry-level credentials when they enter the job market. In addition, AHHA will provide students who plan to continue their education after high school with the training they need to succeed.


“We look forward to working with Mountain Gateway Community College on innovative programs such as the Advanced Health Care Professional Program. Partnership opportunities help to foster our overarching goal of providing our students with the education and training they need to be successful in healthcare professions.  We are hoping to increase enrollment for the AHP in the years to come, and are excited to provide this opportunity to students who are interested in a healthcare career,” said Ginni Phillips, staff member and promoter/coordinator of AHHA. 


Students who are interested in AHHA, the Nurse Aide Program at JRTC, or the Advanced Health Care program specifically should contact their school counselor.

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