Catholic high schools give students real-world experience through academy programs
August 19, 2021
Robert (Trip) Howell believes it’s his Christian duty to help others.
That’s one reason he’s pursuing a career in health care: it’s a tangible way to put compassion into action. “You’re just doing God’s work,” he says.
Howell, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish and 2021 graduate of Roncalli Catholic High School, both in Omaha, received a high school education that will help him get a leg up on his career as he begins nursing studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this fall.
He gained real-world experience through Roncalli’s Health Sciences Career Academy, a partnership with CHI Immanuel Medical Center whereby students spend four afternoons a week at the hospital observing and working side by side with nursing and medical staff. The academy begins its third year this fall.
Students at Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue will also get that opportunity for the first time this fall as that school implements its Health Sciences Career Academy, also in partnership with CHI Immanuel.
Howell, who always enjoyed science classes, said Roncalli’s academy program helped confirm his interest in a health care career.
“I’m really fortunate to be able to go to college, knowing exactly what I want to do,” he said. “If you’re not certain what you want to do, it can get really pricey.”
The academy programs at both Roncalli and Gross Catholic involve students working at the hospital from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, where they are exposed to various departments such as medical/surgical, rehabilitation, orthopedics, oncology, emergency room and others.
Working with professionals, they may check vitals, help wash or move patients, assist with rehabilitation exercises, deliver medications and help with other patient needs.
Friday afternoons are spent in the classroom, where they journal about their experiences, meet with teachers or listen to guest speakers.
Howell said he also values the opportunities the program gave him to extend mercy to others.
“One of the greatest ways to help others is to physically help them when they’re going through some of the hardest times in their lives,” he said. “It’s humbling to know you’re helping somebody … making their lives better.”
At Roncalli, students who may be interested in health care take Introduction to Health Careers and Medical Terminology classes their sophomore year, said Don Jensen, teacher and coordinator of the school’s academy program.
Junior year it’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, and before senior year, students are required to obtain their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Basic Life Support (BLS) certificates. “It’s a pretty well-rounded curriculum,” Jensen said.
Gross High’s program has similar requirements, with some courses, such as Introduction to Medical Law and Ethics, taken online through Metropolitan Community College, said Julie McNamara, school counselor.
And considering their time spent away from school, students must be on track to complete all coursework required for graduation to be admitted into the program, she said.
Both schools make Catholic teaching on medical ethics a part of their academy programs.
“These kids are going to be looking at life-changing situations,” said Paulette Neuhalfen, Gross Catholic principal.
“To handle those things, we have to trust in God that he has a plan for all of us, … but then also to look at the ethical issues (such as those associated with death and dying) that come along with the health fields.”
“So we want to educate our students on the importance of faith in a lot of life decisions,” she said.
The opportunity for students to talk with and comfort patients, even sharing their faith, adds to the Catholic dimension.
“A lot of the patients there (at CHI Immanuel) were Catholic, so I was able to talk about my faith openly while on the job,” said Roncalli grad Howell.
“Part of my job wasn’t just to take vitals … but also to reassure them that everything’s OK … that God has a plan (for them).”
Gross High senior and St. Bernadette parishioner Leia Groski expects the health sciences academy to help her narrow down her field of study in the health professions.
“I really want to go into the medical field,” she said. “I’m not 100% sure what I want to do, but I know I want to work with people to make sure … they can go on to live a healthy life.”
Her Catholic faith and Catholic education, as well as her own family members’ health challenges such as an uncle’s kidney failure and grandmother’s recent cancer diagnosis, have strongly influenced her, she said.
“I think growing up a Catholic and having many years of Catholic education really helped me realize that I do want to help people when I’m older, as a job.”
Both Gross Catholic and Roncalli place a premium on helping students discern and pursue rewarding and fulfilling career paths while growing as persons.
“While they’re gaining knowledge of how a hospital actually works, they’re learning what it means to be responsible, to mature, and knowing what it is to work with a team,” said Jensen.
“Every kid matures at different levels, and this is asking them to move along a lot quicker than some programs,” he said. “But this is a great benefit as far as making the next step in a career choice.”
Roncalli’s health sciences program is one of four career academies including courses in information technology, engineering, automotive technology, construction, welding, criminal justice and more.
This fall, Gross Catholic is also introducing its STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math) Academy, beginning with math and computer science courses. It will include dual enrollment classes for college credits and a one-year field experience or a capstone project in partnership with local colleges and businesses.
“You can’t even put a price tag on having the opportunity to network with and talk with people who are working in the field and to really get their (the students’) hands and feet into those scenarios,” said McNamara. “It’s priceless as they move into the college setting.”
Gross Catholic opens new Innovation Center
Students taking part in Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School’s new Health Sciences Career Academy also will have new surroundings for their in-class learning as the school opens its new Innovation Center this fall.
Designed to foster a collaborative team atmosphere, the $1.95 million renovation creates a flexible learning environment with easily moveable furniture and technology. The 10,000-square-foot facility, in the middle of the school’s academic wing, can also be subdivided into several smaller rooms.
In addition to the school’s new health sciences and STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math) academy programs, other subject area classes and extracurricular activities also will use the center.
Students were involved in the planning and design of the facility, attending weekly architectural and construction meetings, offering input and helping choose furnishings.
One of those students, senior Jeff Treu said: “It gave me a sense of importance and pride to deliver what the students want out of the new space.”
Construction of the center began in mid-April with an official groundbreaking ceremony on May 14. The project was paid for entirely through donations, and is the first phase of a series of planned upgrades for the school’s academic wing.