Refocused SCSD programs aim for career readiness

Syracuse inner-city high schools strengthen programs to help students graduate with more than just a diploma.

It isn’t too often you see 17-year-olds eagerly go home to explain to their mothers the exact medical terminology for a nosebleed or why their clavicle is sore. But this is exactly what Henninger High School students on Syracuse’s west side are doing now, thanks to its new medical assistant program.

Henninger High School is one of just five inner-city high schools refocusing its CTE programs (Career and Technical Education), thanks to the district’s new High School Choice Program. In 2012, the graduation rate at Henninger rose from 48 percent to 49.7 percent and the college/career ready rate was 6.2 percent.

"This is for the kid who is going to college or just wants a career right out of college."
- Colleen Jackson

Under the new program, students can pick a school based on career interest. Each inner-city high school focuses on one or more different CTE programs, from culinary arts to cosmetology, which are all now highlighted through the new program. Henninger High School has had a health career program for a number of years but decided to strengthen it with a new medical assistant program last year, according to Vice Principal Ed Blasland.

“This year we decided to add a second year to the medical assistant program. Within these two years, students will be able to take the national certification exam, graduate ready to work in the medical field, and earn college credits,” Blasland said.

The class of 2015 will be the first to complete the program and test the new added-year program, which focuses on hands-on clinical experience.

In the first year, which started last September, students focused on the administrative side of working in a medical office. Students took a medical terminology and anatomy class, earning three college credits from Onondaga Community College. In the second year, they will visit medical clinics and hospitals to shadow employees, learn to deal with patients, practice drawing blood on dummies toward a phlebotomy certification, and take a national test to become certified as medical assistants.

Program participants also get scrubs with student badges, provided by the school, which they are required to wear every Friday.

“The students want to be here,” said Colleen Jackson, the medical assistant instructor at Henninger.

Jackson, who has been teaching at Henninger for four years, is also a licensed practical nurse and a certified educator in the health education and medical assistant programs.

With a limit of twenty students in the program, Jackson can pay close attention to each student. 

“Mrs. Jackson is always available to answer any question my daughter has,” said Lynell Jackson, (no relation to Colleen), who encouraged her 17-year-old daughter to join the program last year. “I think it’s an awesome program. She is learning so much, getting college credits and will graduate high school already prepared for a good career.”

The program also serves as great training for students who want to pursue medical fields in higher education. Lynell’s daughter, 17-year-old senior Amber Jackson, plans on a career working with disabled children through art therapy.

“I feel this program will help prepare me for the clinical aspect of the field. It’s a great stepping stone to help us further in the medical field,” she said.

“To me, the best part of this program is the dissection we get to do. It’s practice, and I enjoy learning about the human body,” said 17-year-old senior Kevin Tiuonj, who hopes to become a surgeon.

The school plans to continue to promote programs such as the medical assistant curriculum, since many people misunderstand the CTE programs.

“People perceive them as for the kid not going to college, which is not true. This is for the kid who is going to college or just wants a career right out of college, but they still need to graduate from high school to obtain this certification,” Colleen Jackson said.

“I have kids that other teachers have said were horrible students, but who excel in this program because they find it interesting. Now they can graduate not only with a high school diploma but be employable in a medical career field as well,” she added.

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