Career and Technical Education isn’t just a pathway to a career. For many students, it’s a lifeline.
Just ask Linda Romano, Health Science Educator at Newburgh Free Academy, whose own personal story illustrates just how transformative these programs can be.
“When I was a student in high school, I was not thriving. I was not on track to graduate,” Romano said. Like many of her students, Romano had a high level of absenteeism and the low grades that go with it. “D was my favorite letter,” Romano jokes. But a representative from Orange-Ulster BOCES turned that all around when she visited Romano’s school in her neat pink uniform and introduced Romano to the center’s LPN program.
“I came home that day and told my parents, I think I want to do this,” Romano recalls.
When Romano successfully graduated high school the following year, she did it as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). She was able to launch immediately into a job she loved. She went on to create a successful health care training curriculum for a network of nursing homes in the lower Hudson Valley. In 2006, she was invited to retool Newburgh Free Academy’s Health Science/Certified Nursing Assistant program, an opportunity she accepted based on her own positive CTE experiences.
Romano, who is also the president of the New York State Association of Career and Technical Education, said trying to attract CTE teachers from the private sector is not without its share of hurdles. Romano had to take a considerable pay cut when she made the jump to education, and she’s working more hours than ever before, but she’s sure she made the right decision. “I knew that's where I had to be. When you just know something is right, you know. I did give up a lot, but it’s the best decision I've made. I love the students. That's what I'm there for,” she said.
During her tenure at Newburgh, Romano increased student enrollment in the Nursing Assistant program from 12 to 214. The program is a three-year pathway, that typically begins sophomore year, and includes 108 clinical hours in a healthcare setting. She also began a spin-off program at the local armory that provides students as young as first grade with CTE training.
“I think a lot of the work needs to be done, to bring CTE into the middle school and elementary school levels. Primary school programs need to be a little more robust and career-oriented so that students can explore different fields early on,” she said. “Then, by the time they’re in eighth grade, they’re able to make solid choices.”
Her program, “Scholars in Scrubs,” which takes place every Saturday, introduces elementary and middle school students to the various systems of the body and related medical specialties, and like Romano’s high school class, it takes place in a classroom designed to mimic a hospital floor, complete with hospital beds and medical equipment.
“The students are doing health and wellness activities, but they also get to play with the walkers and the canes. They lay in the beds. They examine each other's eyes, weigh each other, take blood pressure, and they like that,” said Romano. “It’s all the skills that my high school students learn, but just on a smaller scale.”
Getting equipment and keeping supplies in stock keeps her busy. Over the years, donations have included expired lab equipment, furniture from hospitals, old equipment from ambulances, and even outdated COVID tests. “I am always reaching out,” Romano said. “It's really a 24/7 kind of thing. You're always thinking about, ‘Well, what could I possibly use this for in my classroom? And where can I get more of them?’”
In the end, her Nursing Assistant program benefits everyone in the community. “It benefits patients. It benefits employers, and of course, it benefits the students because you give them a direction and a career, which hopefully they stay with for a good long time,” said Romano. “It’s a rewarding job and I’m blessed to have it.”
For more profiles and stories on CTE programs in public schools in New York State, visit nysut.org/cte.