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Top of the class

Children of the Earth High School graduates look forward to careers in health care

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2013

Amy Bousquet and Emmy Sky-Gaskin are breaking new ground.

The students have been accepted into the psychiatric nursing program at Brandon University, the first graduates of the Medical Careers Exploration Program (MCEP) at Children of the Earth High School to enter the field of mental health care.

"Mental health awareness is finally gaining a lot of attention nationwide," says Stacie Jaworski, who taught Bousquet and Sky-Gaskin at Children of the Earth.

"I am absolutely thrilled to know that some of our very own students may one day be leaders in this field. These two students - and their courageous decision to pursue such a unique area of study - will certainly serve as inspiration to upcoming MCEP graduates."

In addition to Bousquet and Sky-Gaskin, there are three other graduates from the MCEP this year: Leanne Hartley, who is aiming to become a medical doctor; Brooklyn Orchard, who is working to become an X-ray technician; and Colten Pratt, who wants to become a paramedic.

The five are the latest to graduate from the program, a unique initiative designed to steer First Nations and Métis students to careers in health care.

Launched in 2007, through a partnership between the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division, the threeyear program offers students hands-on experience working with doctors, nurses, technicians, physiotherapists and other medical mentors at the Pan Am Clinic, Grace Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. It also prepares students for a future in medicine by reinforcing the skills necessary to excel in university, such as study skills, literacy, theoretical sciences, and mathematics. The first class of five students graduated in 2011, with six more students graduating in 2012.

"We have a count-down board to graduation, and I think it really hit them that they're going on to post-secondary work next year. Most of them already have their plans in place and are being accepted for study."

The MCEP program features a blend of core academics and courses with a cultural flavour. Students take courses in pre-calculus math, biology, chemistry, and English, as well as language courses in Ojibwe and Cree. In addition to working on information communication technologies to enhance their computer skills, they also learn traditional Aboriginal ways of healing and medicine. MCEP graduates also qualify for a Bright Futures post-secondary scholarship grant of $1,000 for each year they complete in high school as students of the program.

A brief profile of each student in the graduating class of 2013 can be found in the pages that follow.

Leanne Hartley

Leanne Hartley may have set the record for the busiest person in the 2013 MCEP graduating class. Along with her studies, she's working a part-time job and taking boxing lessons. She speaks highly of the adrenaline rush she gets from her classes and adds that it's a great workout.

And she is doing all of this with her sights set on medical school. "I have friends going through medical school that I talk with," she says. "I know it's a lot of work, but I want to work in medicine, possibly up north. Everywhere you go, people need health care, and I want to make a difference in the community."

She enjoyed her experiences at HSC, Pan Am Clinic and the Grace Hospital, and was fascinated by operations, including watching kidney stones being removed and working in the burn victim unit at HSC. "The burn ward was very intense," she says. "It was interesting watching the doctors and nurses work with the patients." To further her career aspirations, Hartley has applied to the University of Manitoba's Aboriginal Access program for healthcare careers. She got a small shock when she went in May for her interview: she had to write an essay and take three tests, a different process than she expected.

"This was something new," says teacher Stacie Jaworski. "In previous years, it was an aptitude test and interview. I told her to try her best. She's a good, thorough writer and very analytical. Her note-taking is meticulous and she does something I've never seen a high school student do before: she writes down the process of everything we do."

Jaworski says that while at times Hartley has struggled with balancing work and school, she knows that once this young woman makes up her mind to do something, it will get done. "She knows that she is the one to make a difference in her life."

Amy Bousquet

Like an arrow in flight, Amy Bousquet has a definite target in mind for post-secondary education and her future career: she wants to become a psychiatric nurse.

"I want to work in addictions. I did my hands-on at Health Sciences Centre, and got to know the patients and talked to them about drug abuse. I loved being a part of the team that works in addictions, with the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers," she says. "That's the only place I want to work, I loved it so much."

Having lost her father to addiction, Bousquet has a lot of motivation. "She has an emotional connection," says teacher Stacie Jaworski. "She did her work experience at the addictions unit at Health Sciences Centre and treasured the experience. It's unusual to have a high school student in that department, and you wouldn't believe the praise she received from the staff. Most students like to move around and experience more career options, but Amy knows what she wants," she said, adding that this year, Amy spent two full weeks of practicum in the addictions unit. Bousquet has been accepted to the four-year psychiatric nursing program through Brandon University, and will be studying at the University of Winnipeg campus this fall. It will be a closer commute than her current one; she lives in Fort Rouge and takes the bus daily to Children of the Earth. Her mother is a health-care aide and has been hugely supportive of her decision to become a nurse.

"I'm nervous about going to university, but it's what's next. If I had any advice to give to new students coming into MCEP, it's to take the classes seriously and don't fall behind. There's so much you can learn," says Bousquet.

Colten Pratt

Colten Pratt knew that he wanted to work in health care from an early age, and has been on track to fulfill that goal ever since.

To help achieve that objective, he has trained as a lifeguard, thoroughly enjoying the first aid work, which deals with everything from cuts and broken bones through to childbirth and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Currently, Pratt is working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for the Winnipeg Winter Club.

And he certainly does practise. Teacher Stacie Jaworski says that sometimes when the class is quiet, Pratt can be heard doing "chest" compressions on a nearby water bottle.

"Colten has been 100 per cent about becoming a paramedic through his three years in the program. In Grade 11, he did a ride-along with an ambulance supervisor and got to go to the 911 call centre," says Jaworski.

During that ride along, Pratt watched the paramedics deal with a person in anaphylactic shock, a woman with a blood infection, and another person who had over-dosed. The calm professionalism of the paramedics made a deep impression on him.

Pratt received high marks from the staff of Health Sciences Centre and the Pan Am Clinic, says Jaworski. "People can't believe his age, he's so mature."

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is developing a new program for Aboriginal students, and Jaworski says Pratt is a fantastic candidate.

"I've been corresponding with them about the fall, and how I will need to have all my shots (vaccinations) and a Class 4 driver's license," Pratt says. "I have my fingers crossed for September. If I don't get into this, I'm looking at Red River College and the Criti Care Academy as other options."

Emmy Sky-Gaskin

After experiencing many different departments at Health Sciences Centre, Pan Am Clinic and the Grace Hospital, Emmy Sky-Gaskin has decided to go into psychiatric nursing.

While it's less hands-on than other nursing specialties, she wants to help youth find a stable and healthy mental life. "I enjoy working with young people, and there's so much that can go wrong mentally," she says, adding that her friend Amy Bousquet is also planning to become a psychiatric nurse.

Sky-Gaskin has been accepted to the four-year psychiatric nursing program through Brandon University, and will be studying at the University of Winnipeg campus this fall.

Born in Winnipeg's North End, Sky-Gaskin's original plan was to attend Sisler High School. But her mother heard about Children of the Earth High School and encouraged her daughter to apply for the Medical Careers Exploration Program.

Her grandfather, Percy Cameron, was the first Aboriginal health aide at Health Sciences Centre. He then moved on to work at the addictions treatment centre in Peguis First Nation. "He talked to me about addictions counselling and what it was like to work at the hospital," she says.

Gaskin-Sky says she enjoyed learning about the speech and language pathology work done at HSC. "We worked with children who were having trouble speaking. I really enjoyed working with the little kids."

She began the year thinking she might train to be a veterinary technician, and finally settled on the idea of nursing. "Emmy is very bright, and she's grown a lot this year, particularly in math. She's very thorough in all her work, and she'll be great in health care," says teacher Stacie Jaworski.

Brooklyn Orchard

There's something about X-ray images that speak to Brooklyn Orchard, who is fascinated by her hands-on experiences through MCEP.

"I love seeing the inner workings of the body - the bones and surrounding tissue," she says, adding that she prefers working with radiographs, which serves up images of bones better than other X-ray technologies, such as CT or MRI scans. "It's so interesting using X-rays to diagnose broken bones, and look at problems like pneumonia," she says.

Orchard was born in Winnipeg, and credits her parents with the push to explore a health-care career. She is hoping to be accepted to train at Red River College, but will have to take a year of prerequisite studies at the University of Winnipeg first.

"It's hard to believe we'll be done with high school and be on our own," she says. "My dad calls me his fish. I like to stick with my schooling," she says, explaining the joke is in reference to small groups of fish known as "schools."

Orchard may have struggled with shyness at the beginning of Grade 12, but her sense of humour won out and she finds joy in everything, says teacher Stacie Jaworski. "She's organized, analytical, and able to express herself in writing well, but it took a while for her to express herself in spoken words. She also processes her answers before speaking, which shows the thought she puts into everything."

Orchard certainly had no trouble expressing her interest while in the X-ray Department at Pan Am Clinic. She was very curious about the machine's workings and the inner workings of the human body, as revealed by the X-rays, say the staff who worked with her.

Susie Strachan is a communications advisor with the Winnipeg Health Region.

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