New opportunities for CNA students

Charles City High School unique CNA program


(CHARLES CITY, Iowa) -- High school students in North Iowa have a new educational opportunity open to them thanks to an innovative community partnership and the work of Iowa BIG North (IBN) students. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA) has approved the Charles City High School’s application to offer a unique 75-hour certified nursing assistant (CNA) program. The approval came on April 11, 2018. This program contains rigorous curriculum established and approved by the State of Iowa and is unique for two reasons. One, it is one of four high school programs across the state that is a stand-alone high school program not tied to a community college, and two, the program is the first in the state designed and implemented by students through a business partnership. Iowa BIG North students worked with managers at Chautauqua Guest Homes to obtain DIA approval and specifically tailored these classes to meet the needs of high school students. The program allows for flexibility to engage students in the class while still allowing them to be involved in the full high school experience.


“I have a personal experience obtaining my own CNA through the traditional method. After hearing from businesses about the need for more CNAs in Iowa, and hearing from high school students about the challenges in making this work in their schedule, I knew we needed to make changes,” said Shelby Wiegmann with the IBN CNA implementation initiative team. “That is how this Iowa BIG North program got started, by listening to students and matching that up to business needs.”


“Meeting student need is important and should be one of our top priorities,” said Donna Forsyth, a facilitator with Iowa BIG North. “The IBN CNA course can do this.”


Many times, CNA courses via community colleges are not able to offer a timeframe for class and clinical coursework that is flexible and works with student schedules. Active high school students who participate in extracurricular activities have a desire to take the course, but find their activity schedule doesn’t fit the established class calendar. IBN students helped establish the Charles City High School as a certified program that can work with student’s schedules to make this opportunity a reality for students.


“The CNA classes being offered through the high school offered me the flexibility I needed to take the class without having to quit music and basketball,” said Cinnamon Evans, a Charles City High School junior. “I was able to continue with my high school activities and obtain my CNA certificate due to the flexibility of the program. I wouldn’t have been able to participate in another program without having to sacrifice my passions.”


“Iowa BIG North’s new Certified Nursing Assistant program is putting students first by providing a great career springboard that fits into a schedule filled with other high school courses and extracurricular activities,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. “I am so impressed that students took the lead to make this happen in collaboration with their community partner, Chautauqua Guest Homes. This is the sort of innovative public-private partnership we hope the Future Ready Iowa initiative will encourage across the state."


"The recommendations from the Future Ready Iowa Alliance reflect the need to educate parents and students, sooner rather than later, about the high skilled career opportunities available in Iowa,” said Beth Townsend, Director of Iowa Workforce Development. “One of the very best ways to do this is through work based learning opportunities in our K-12 schools. Work based learning provides a broad range of opportunities for students to explore different career options. It also is one of the best ways to close the skills gap by growing our skilled labor pool.”


Twelve junior and senior students at Charles City High School have completed the initial session of the new CNA class and will be the first IBN class to be awarded the DIA certificate of completion. Sue Ayers, administrator at 9th Street Chautauqua Guest Homes in Charles City, is also presenting each 2018 program graduate with a letter of intent to hire following testing at one of the Chautauqua facilities in Charles City. This demonstrates the demand for CNAs across the state. Graduates can be employed as soon as skills and written tests are passed for the CNA exam at a community college. The CNA class will be offered again during the second semester of the 2018-19 academic year at the Charles City High School for juniors and seniors. The intent is to expand the course into more IBN districts in the future.


A survey of nursing facilities in the United States by the American Health Care Association shows more than 95,000 vacant nursing positions across the nation.


“For years, we have worked with the high school to offer training for CNAs,” said Ayers. “When we finally involved students in the process, we looked outside the box, formulated new goals and processes, and attained success. This course is a win for all involved. We are working to retain North Iowa’s best and brightest individuals after their career goals are realized.”


Iowa CNAs must complete a program that meets state and federal requirements. Iowa programs consist of at least 45 hours of classroom and at least 30 hours of clinical work. Students must also achieve 70 percent or higher on the final state test. Charles City students have exceeded the State of Iowa requirements in both of the two areas of classroom and clinical time. They also have authentic learning experiences with residents at the Chautauqua skilled nursing facilities.


“These students display the ability to problem solve and show the dedication and commitment to complete each and every program requirement despite early hours and inclement weather,” said Kathy Cerwinski, nurse manager of Chautauqua Guest Homes and RN program director. “We are developing healthcare leaders that are critical thinkers and focused on high-quality care. I am extremely proud of each of them.”


Chautauqua Guest Homes worked hand-in-hand with the Iowa BIG North students to implement this program at a minimal cost to the school district and students. Typically, a class like this would cost the 12 students enrolled (or the district) more than $550 per student, plus the cost of the collegiate textbook. The investment by the district was $1,200 to offer the CNA course to all students, as instructor costs are shared. Students are also required to obtain their Hepatitis B vaccinations and tuberculosis tests along with a criminal background check. Chautauqua Guest Homes paid for TB testing and checks.


“The Iowa BIG North CNA Implementation Initiative Team worked passionately to provide this approved program to their peers,” said Forsyth. “Our community partner, Chautauqua Guest Homes, has made this opportunity possible. They have been amazing, and the students have loved every minute of their time there.”


“These are the types of individuals we want in health care in Iowa’s future,” added Cerwinski. Graduates of the program are employable immediately upon completion of the CNA final test. Students also have continued education in mind. Charles City junior Samantha Alinea is taking the CNA course as a beginning step towards her goal of being a pediatric ophthalmologist - a child eye surgeon. The high school CNA program is the beginning of an additional 12 years of education for Alinea.


“The CNA program is a great opportunity for students like myself,” said Alinea. “I am involved in club volleyball, I had piano lessons, and I worked at Y’s Guys when I didn’t have golf practice. This program works with your schedule.”


Graduates will be able to walk into the workforce with practical employment skills and an advantage compared to their peers when continuing their medical experience.


Overall, this new innovative program is a win for many people. It is a win for high school students involved in nurturing their lifelong passion for health care, yet wanting to continue with the full high school experience. It’s a win for Iowa and the community because of the high demand for CNAs. It’s a win for the school because students are being served with a new program while continuing to be involved in extracurricular activities. It’s a win for the healthcare industry to supply a demand for CNAs and encourage interest in the field, and it is a win for residents in skilled nursing facilities because of the cross-generational interaction.  


Iowa BIG North is a consortium of school districts in Northeast Iowa (Charles City, New Hampton, Osage, and Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock) who share resources to offer an educational experience centered around student-passion, student-led, problem-based, and authentic learning.


The Charles City Community School District serves approximately 1,500 students in northeastern Iowa. Their mission is to engage, inspire, and empower students and staff in order to maximize learning.


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