CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (WLS) -- A first-of-its-kind program in the northwest suburbs is giving high schoolers the chance to solve a healthcare workforce shortage in their community.
A new pilot program is teaching teens to become certified nursing assistants.
It's not your everyday high school classroom, and these are not your everyday high schoolers.
"I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare," said Stephanie Gonzalez, Crystal Lake Central High School senior.
"I get a chance to get into the healthcare industry way earlier than I expected," added Karson Hollander.
"We could have a career coming out of high school and start as a CNA," said Mia Melchert.
Melchert, Hollander, and Gonzalez are just three of more than 40 Crystal Lake Central High School students who are set to start their healthcare careers as certified nursing assistants, and they haven't even graduated yet.
"I have been so impressed with this group of students. They are highly motivated, they are determined, they are prioritizing their success in this program," said Andrea Miculinich, CNA Program Coordinator.
She said it's part of a first-of-its-kind pilot in McHenry County. District 155 was given a $1.5 million grant to start a program to train high school students to fill desperately needed CNA roles in the community.
"Anything that you would typically do to care for yourself, a CNA can do to help you when you're in a time when maybe you wouldn't be able to perform all of your self-care skills independently," Miculinich said.
But it's not just theory and practice at a brand new health care training facility at Central High School; it's also real world experience. Northwestern Medicine in McHenry County has partnered with students to give them a foot in the door and the potential for a career in the healthcare industry.
"It's a unique concept, but I really think it's going to be a concept that continues to grow in the future because it is so needed," said Catie Schmit, Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital VP & Chief Nurse Executive.
Schmit said there are hundreds of CNA roles open right now in the county. The district said the students completing the program could fill about a quarter of them.
"Our goal would be to retain them and for them to eventually become NM employees," Schmit said.
And for these high school students interacting with patients, taking vitals and doing real world clinicals, it's the chance of a lifetime.
"So my whole family speaks Spanish and growing up going to the doctor I was always the one that would have to translate for them and I've always wanted to see more people that advocate in Spanish," Gonzalez said.
"I get a chance to work with patients and be hands on and already know what that's like at this point," Hollander said.
"We have an opportunity to fill those voids," Melchert said.
These students could take their CNA licensing exam as soon as January.