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Connellsville Area School District

CACTC camp introduces students to health care careers


Professions like doctor or nurse are often ingrained in children’s minds from a young age. Less often, they don’t hear about other health-related jobs, like phlebotomist or radiologist or speech pathologist, until they’re much older.

A recent health care camp allowed some students in the Connellsville Area School District a peek at the career opportunities in one of southwestern Pennsylvania’s leading industries.

The camp, held last week at the Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center (CTC) for 14 district students entering seventh and eighth grades, packed hands-on activities, field trips and guest speakers into three days of health-centered instruction.

“The whole goal of the camp is to expose students earlier in their academic careers to possible careers after graduation,” said Shawna Little, workforce development coordinator at the school who coordinated the camp.

The camp was made possible by the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board, which provides grants of up to $5,000 for career exploration camps for middle school students during the summer.

The CTC, through its partnership with the workforce investment board, decided to take advantage of the available funds for the first time to engage the district’s intermediate students in health sector career opportunities.

“We want students to know there are multiple careers in health care, and they can all be done right here in this region,” said Little. “We want to show them careers they can have in this area that pay a family-supporting wage, and you don’t have to go through extensive schooling; it can be a quick certificate.”

Students participated in hands-on activities with CTC instructors, such as first aid training, glucose testing, and simulated blood drawing.

During one session with protective services instructor Ron Berry, three of Berry’s senior CTC students helped him to demonstrate basic first aid exercises. Their presence, said Little, was a bonus.

“The (middle school) students get to see them helping out and excited about it, and hopefully that gets them excited as well.”

In a field trip to Westmoreland County Community College, the cohort got to experience that school’s health professions division, including the dental lab and nursing and radiology departments.

Another trip to Highlands Hospital in Connellsville allowed students to tour and learn about the facility’s emergency room, surgical unit, wellness center and various labs.

Students had the opportunity to be CPR certified through the camp upon meeting certain criteria. The week was capped with a “health care Olympics” competition to test the students’ knowledge. Each student walked out of the camp with their own stethoscope, colored Falcon blue.

Little explained that given the option to focus the camp on energy, manufacturing or health care, the school chose the latter for reasons twofold.

Not only is there a need for health care employees in the region, but the students attending camp can also be exposed to the health occupations and protective services programs at the CTC that could help prepare them for careers in health care, she said.

“We really wanted to highlight our programs and showcase the instructors and facilities we have here,” said Little. “It’s a wonderful experience for the district and for the students in particular. It’s something they’re excited about.”

“Some of these students aren’t exposed to this without these types of opportunities.”