PELLA — Aspiring doctors, nurses, lab technicians and more had the opportunity to meet Governor Kim Reynolds at the Career Academy of Pella’s launch of the Patient Care High School Apprenticeship Nov. 9.

Reynolds was one of several speakers at the launch, which celebrated the new program and those already participating in it.

Pella High School senior Marie Vander Wilt shared some of her own experiences as the first apprentice to go through the program, which is one of several offered through WorkSMART Connector, a collaboration of educators and employers in the county.

Vander Wilt started taking relevant classes her junior year in order to prepare for the hands-on portion of the apprenticeship before starting work at The Cottages, a nursing home in Pella.

“I’ve been working as a CNA for six months now, and I know for a fact that this is what I want to do,” she said. “I can say this with confidence because of this program.”

The program gives students not only the chance to become a CNA and work under a mentor while still in high school, but also to explore different specialties in the medical field to truly find what fits.

Reynolds acknowledged the program’s benefit to the community and expressed a hope that similar models will soon be available for high school students all throughout the state.

“The model that you built here at the career academy is one that I know we can and that we must initiate in more schools and communities across Iowa,” Reynolds said. “You’re finding innovative and new ways to apply a proven approach that really opens the doors for Iowa students … It’s public/private partnerships of this kind that are exactly what Iowa’s education system needs to offer our students the opportunities to find a career path that they’re passionate about."

By putting their classroom knowledge to work in healthcare facilities, Vander Wilt and students like her get to see and appreciate aspects of healthcare and career opportunities they otherwise may not have known.

Groundbreaking technology

Students in the patient care apprenticeship get not only to experience hands-on work in local healthcare facilities, but also use first-of-its-kind technology.

Evan Ferguson, a student in the patient care program, demonstrated at the event the virtual reality simulator for training CNAs.

With just a virtual reality headset and two hand pieces, students can take themselves from the classroom to a patient’s bedside and practice a variety of skills necessary in the medical field from hand washing to basic patient positioning.

The technology allows students to get hands-on practice even if they cannot be directly in a medical care facility.

The unique technology in the Patient Care Apprenticeship offered through WorkSMART helped Vander Wilt solidify her passion for healthcare, but the Career Academy of Pella offers experience in the field for students with interests far beyond just healthcare.

A career for everyone

The Career Academy of Pella is a building at the high school where students are introduced to different skill areas and participate in hands-on learning and work experience to help identify an area of interest for future employment.

There are currently six apprenticeship programs available at the academy: culinary/hospitality, engineering assistant, CNA/patient care, welding, early childhood education, and information technology.

Students in each program get to work under mentors and receive hands-on personal training from professionals.

“Thanks to our combined efforts, even more students will be inspired by local opportunities in healthcare through our … training technology in high school and the investment employers are making in local students like Marie,” Director of Work Based Learning Program Teri Vos said.“It’s all possible through the partnership and collaborative solutions that Iowa is known for, like WorkSTART Connector.”

Shannon Rabotski can be reached at

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