, Haverhill High School Partners with Hannah Duston Healthcare Center in Haverhill, MAThere’s a ‘silver tsunami’ on the horizon; as the baby boomers in America reach their senior years and as longevity increases, there will be an increase in demand across all industries, particularly in the healthcare system. The students of the CTE (Career Technical Education) Healthcare Occupations program at Haverhill High School are meeting this challenge head-on, and working with Hannah Duston Healthcare Center along the way. 

The Healthcare Occupations CTE Program offered by Haverhill High School is a DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) Innovation Pathway and DPH (Department of Public Health) approved Nurse Aide Training Program. 

This four-year, 900-hour program provides entry opportunities into healthcare for the next generation of nurses. Haverhill High School is located in a prominent gateway community and enrolls approximately 1850 students. More than 47% of Haverhill High School students are designated as low-income, and many of them are first-generation in their families to pursue higher education. Haverhill High School’s CTE Healthcare Occupations program provides underrepresented populations opportunities to access livable wage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. 

The CTE Healthcare Occupations program prepares students to enter the workforce as well as earn certifications such as:

  • First Aid for First Responders
  • Healthcare Provider-Level BLS (Basic Life Support) CPR/AED (Automated External Defibrillator)
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
  • Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Certification
  • Massachusetts CNA (Nurse Aide Certification)

Haverhill High School follows DESE’s approved application process, which evaluates applicants based on five components: 

  • Interview
  • Guidance counselor recommendation
  • Academics
  • Attendance records
  • Behavior records

Potential students are interviewed in 8th grade and students are accepted based on their DESE-approved admissions policy.

Mary Rastauskas, RN, M.Ed, was one of the first nurses to be hired as an instructor in the program’s early years. She has a background in technology, education, obstetrical nursing, and school nursing. Still, even with her experience, she hesitated when she saw the Healthcare program’s launch’s job listing. 

“I immediately hit delete the first time I saw [the job],” she says. “I didn’t have confidence at all, but then I saw the listing again several months later, and I started to wonder if I could do it.” 

Once she secured the position, there was still a lot of work to do. The program leaned heavily on the Advisory Committee to secure some of the required DPH equipment and supplies needed to meet state approval. During this time, Chris Olenio and Whittier Health Network donated bedspreads, other linens, and supplies for the learning lab. Mary remains exceptionally passionate about the program and her student’ successes and continues developing and growing the program.

What has been interesting over the past few years is how many kids come to high school, hear about how fun yet challenging the healthcare program is, and request to enroll. Due to the program’s comprehensive nature, it is best to commit to the entire four years. However, there are some individualized circumstances that HHS takes into account. 

As the program has grown, Kristin Hentschel, RN, BSN, another full-time instructor, was hired. Kristin comes from a traditional vocational-technical educational background and a lengthy career in Long Term Care. She says, “We recognize that high school is an opportunity for kids to explore occupations. Some students realize that as they go through the program, they don’t want to do this line of work, and then some students wish they had signed up.” Kristin is eager to return to clinicals, help students to finish this year strong, and celebrate their long-awaited accomplishments.

This past year has brought new challenges due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic. The completion of program requirements came to an unfortunate halt for the first graduating class. 

In September 2020, the Haverhill school department canceled all field trips, internships, and clinical opportunities. That said, the hands-on piece of the program is DPH required critical training. During hands-on practical skills hours, students learn how to perform daily living activities such as bathing, grooming, dressing, bed making, safe patient handling, patient positioning and transfers, and proper body mechanics. Simulation practice as well as working with actual patients is essential for student competence.

While Covid restrictions remain in place, students perform at-home practice sessions using pillows, stuffed animals, and other improvised props. At the same time, Wednesday afternoons are offered for open labs and skills practice. Coming soon, HHS will offer Saturday CNA Boot Camp in preparation for qualifying for the state Red Cross Nurse Aide exam: “The juniors are chomping at the bit to get back to clinicals, but we also need to help the seniors who lost out last year. Some of our seniors are currently working in the field, trying to get to that point where they can do the certification testing with the Red Cross testing agency.” 

Even with this year’s restrictions, interest in the program continues to build; 85 students are currently enrolled, a waiting list is in place, and families coming up from Haverhill middle schools are already asking about the program. 

A decade ago, many local healthcare facilities were wary of high school students volunteering or interning due to liability concerns. Now, facilities such as Whittier Health Network’s Hannah Duston Healthcare Center, Lawrence General Hospital, Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Trinity EMS, Holy Family Hospital, and other community facilities are eager to partner with the Haverhill High program. Many students have shared that they see CNA certification as a stepping stone to nursing and medical school. They understand that the skills they are learning will translate to other jobs in the healthcare industry. They have a proper understanding of what it takes to be in this industry, thanks to the program’s emphasis on exploration, exposure, ethics, and professionalism.

“It’s been a slow crawl – two steps forward; one step back,” Mary says. “But Haverhill High started this program with nothing, and there is so much interest and excitement to this now. The community is starting to recognize what we can offer. We are ready to go when restrictions lift!” 

Families interested in learning more about Haverhill High School’s CTE Healthcare Occupations Program can visit www.hhscte.org. The program is always looking for mentors, guest speakers, or local internship opportunities so students can stay and work in their community. Please contact them directly if you’d like to play a part in training the next generation of medical workers. 

Visit Hannah Duston Healthcare Center’s page to find out more about scheduling a tour of the facility.