The week before Christmas, reindeer antlers bobbed up and down the halls of Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center as students from Debra Silva’s health assistance class at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School filled the corridors. They delivered handmade ornaments they crafted as part of a project that Silva brought to the Island this year.
The class, comprised mostly of sophomores who took two hours out of their day to visit Brewer House in Vineyard Haven and Windemere in Oak Bluffs, are enrolled in the high school’s Health Assistance class, a two-year course that culminates in participants sitting for their certified nursing assistant (CNA) exam.
“They start with theory, and basic skills such as bedmaking and communication with patients,” Silva explained. “In their second year, Health Assistance 2, students participate in clinical, where they work a minimum of 21 hours with patients at Windemere in preparation for their exam to become a CNA.”
Silva spends class time preparing her students for work — from CPR certification to first aid training, and more: “They will be employable at Windemere when they pass their CNA exam.”
All of the hard work and dedication that goes into passing the CNA exam at such a young age didn’t stop the students from taking a quick break from their studies to get into the holiday spirit. Silva had students create festive ornaments to be brought to what could be their future workplaces, and to be gifted to those who could be their future patients. “They’re actually made of toilet paper rolls,” Silva said, the cardboard tubes transformed beyond recognition into shapes resembling glimmering stars and snowflakes, glitter and sparkles adorning them in the colors of the season.
“Would you like a holiday ornament?” was one of the most popular phrases around Windemere Tuesday, as faces lit up seeing the high schoolers walk through around lunchtime. “Thank yous” reverberated down the hallways. Nearly 50 festive decorations were handed to patients as they went about their day. SIlva laughed as her students dug through a box filled with ornaments, wanting to hand off their own hard work to patients. Heads poked out of rooms at the sound of laughter and footsteps in the hall, and the energy seemed to be transformed by the giving attitude of the high school students demonstrating their dedication to their field.
Danielle Oteri, one of the students passing out ornaments, said that she took the class because she hopes to one day become a maternity doctor, and couldn’t wait to get her CNA. In this first year of Health Assistance class, she has enjoyed delving into theory, but especially enjoyed the opportunity to get out into the community. “I really just enjoy making residents happy from the outside, as a high schooler,” she said.
“This class really aims to fill a gap that needs to be filled, of CNAs on the Island,” Silva explained. Not only are the students employable as CNAs, but they often go on to higher education, which has begun to require patient contact in applications in some cases, Silva said. That’s why she aims to get the students involved in the places they may be working — and why she decided to bring a tradition she had started at her previous school, Old Colony Regional Vocational High School in Rochester, to the Island.
“Being in this class has helped me to connect things I am learning in life, like what I see in my job as an ER mentor, to school,” Abby Marchand, one of the students, explained. Abby signed with Connecticut College last Tuesday morning to play field hockey, before heading out to Windemere to deliver the ornaments she and her classmates had made. She plans to study biology at Connecticut College. “I’ve always just been interested in the human body and health,” Abby said. The Health Assistance class allows her and her classmates to reaffirm their passions before heading off to school.
Silva and her crew of reindeer left Windemere to a chorus of thank-yous and goodbyes, smiles watching them leave, with no ornaments left to give.