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New class option gives Osakis students a jump start on their future

Students in the nursing assistant class practiced basic care on each other during a lab.

As many students struggle to find the money for college, some at Osakis High School (OHS) are taking a course that will set them right in the workforce well above minimum wage.

The nursing assistant (NA) class is a collaborative effort between OHS, Alexandria Technical College (ATC) and Galeon that, when completed, gives students options.

Whether they decide to enter the workforce - starting wage is $9.20 per hour - or are college bound, the class sets students up for the future, according to Dave Carlson, Galeon administrator.

"We're just thrilled to be part of the three-part collaboration that will help Osakis people get jobs," he said. "This is also the first step of a very nice career ladder available at ATC."

The current class includes one community member - the course was also offered through Osakis Community Education - and the rest are high school students with all but one of the participants interested in pursuing a future career in nursing.

The high school class takes the three-week NA program and stretches it out for 3-1/2 months, allowing students to fit it into their school schedule.

Students meet daily at Galeon for classroom time, with labs once a week, led by Jill Jacobson, RN, who works for ATC.

Students learn basic care for the elderly, such as putting on and using a transfer belt and cares such as brushing a resident's teeth or bathing.

They also talk a lot about regulations, new laws, attitude and communication.

Carlson noted that Galeon was happy to be able to supply both a classroom in Community Memorial Home and lab space - a two-bedroom apartment at Terrace Heights - for student use.

"It's nice bringing them here to the nursing home where they are observing and developing a comfort level with the elderly people," Jacobson said.

Jesse Noska, director of nursing at Galeon, believes it's a valuable asset to offer nursing assistant classes in the environment they are training to work in.

"This is not just a job," she said. "They are the direct caregivers to somebody's mother, father, grandmother or grandfather."

She noted how she encourages relationships with the residents and promotes how wonderful and rewarding a nursing assistant job can be.

"They are the ones who will know these people and recognize when changes are happening and report this to a nurse," she said.

The last three days of the course include a clinical experience. Each student shadows a certified nursing assistant and observes the first day and is assigned to a resident for the next two days. Although under supervision throughout the experience, the student is expected to conduct all the activities necessary for daily living for that resident.

After clinicals, students take a final test for the course followed by the opportunity to take the nursing assistant certification test at ATC.

Students get three college credits for completing the course. They also save the $500 it would cost to take it outside the high school setting.

Carlson, who also serves on the Osakis School Board, said he thinks it's a good fit for the Osakis course offerings.

"We've invested a lot in the college in the schools program - where students can take college classes in high school - and this gives local students a work training program with immediate results in the marketplace," he said.

Judi Anderson, ATC student services, said it's a way to add a value course to the curriculum with high school and college credit.

"With the shortage of skilled help within nursing homes, it gives students an opportunity to get a taste of nursing, one of the better paying jobs in small communities," she said.

According to Anderson, once they get certified, opportunities open up for nursing assistants far into the future.

Carlson credited Anderson for getting the program off the ground.

"It is such a nice demonstration on their part, knowing not everyone will pursue a four-year degree," he said. "Whatever they decide to do, these options are very important to a lot of kids."

Jacobson agreed, noting that as the baby boomers continue to age, there will be a bigger need for skilled caregivers.

"It's a win-win for everybody involved," she said. "It behooves everybody to do all we can to get people trained in this field."