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STEPHEN HEMELT — Memorial helping develop next generation of nurses

Timothy Tremont doesn’t pull any punches when talking about the success of Memorial High School’s program for Certified Nursing Assistants, also known as CNAs.

It is not for everybody, he warns, noting it is not uncommon to see a student drop out of the program.

“It is academically challenging,” he said. “It’s also physically challenging because a lot of students don’t initially understand all the aspects of nursing. When you’re dealing with some of the smells and some of what you can see, it gets scary for them, they can’t handle it and some request to be removed.”

Tremont, a Thomas Jefferson High School graduate and director of Career and Technical Education at Memorial, notes those students who stick with the program enjoy hands-on learning and exceptional instruction.

Due to the COVID-19 nature of remote and social-distanced learning, this year’s graduating CNA Memorial seniors have not all tested for certification, but that hiccup does not stop Tremont from declaring the school’s program its most successful based on those receiving certifications.

Of the 28 seniors who completed the program in 2019, 25 received their CNA certification.

“The certification tests are scheduled by the students, themselves, and they go to the test themselves,” he said. “We’re not taking them to the test site. We’re not paying for their tests. This is something they are doing on their own after they complete the course, which tells me a lot about the students and the dedication they have.”

Memorial students can declare for the program as early as ninth grade, which sets them up for a 90-minute class every other day in 10th grade.

Once 11th grade begins, those students move on to two 90-minute classes, where they start getting serious with training. The 12th grade evaluation allows students to demonstrate what they learned through hands-on clinical work at local nursing homes.

The program is run by three registered nurses, all with ties to the former St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur.

“For us to have three certified nurses is really a special thing,” Tremont said. “We offer our students technology that is really on the cutting edge. We have two lifelike mannequins where students actually take blood pressure, take the temperature and it is all regulated through a computer. The teachers change the temperature, heart rate and breathing rate and can see if the students are actually doing it correctly.”

One of the program’s nurse leaders is Barbara Minard.

When we talked this week, she described the program’s success by illustrating the path of former student Elizabeth Jacobo.

In May, Jacobo graduated from Lamar University’s JoAnne Gay Dishman School of Nursing and accepted a position in the emergency department at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas-St. Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth is goal-oriented and utilized every moment she had to gain knowledge in health and all her classes,” Minard said. “She is able to reach out to patients from all walks of life. She is a Christian, demonstrating that numerous times in the way she was raised. She is well versed all the way around.”

Minard feels Jacobo brings “old-school nursing” to patient care because of her compassion for all people.

“She is a helper for her peers and the general population,” Minard said. “She looks out for everybody.”

Tremont attributes Jacobo’s and the program’s success to the dedicated teachers.

“It’s a technical program but, yet, we have four-year degreed certified teachers that are RNs,” he said. “That’s something a lot of people can’t come up with, but this program is very beneficial. For us to have three certified nurses is really a special thing. They teach them hands-on skills so that at the end of the school year students can go take the test to be a CNA.”

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at 409-721-2445 or stephen.hemelt@panews.com.