Health Science

Health science instructor Nancy Ziegler assists junior Danielle Robinson during introduction to health careers class Friday morning at Portage High School. Ziegler's class is among several opportunities available to students who are interested in exploring health care careers.

NOAH VERNAU/Daily Register

Sitting is rare in the health science classroom at Portage High School.

“They need something to do with their legs and hands,” Nancy Ziegler said of the standing desks her students used Friday. Low-set horizontal swing bars at the base of the desks encouraged busy feet during Ziegler’s introduction to health careers class, a surprisingly focused group despite their looming winter break.

“There really isn’t a need for chairs,” Ziegler said. Standing is good for health and most of her students told Ziegler they prefer it. Hers is the only all-standing classroom in the school, though other teachers are now ordering them.

The desks keep hands-on health science stations at eye level, such as those using mannequins standing in for patients.

Desks don’t complete the list of new ideas that have helped to prepare Portage High School students for the health care field, said one of Ziegler’s standing students, junior Morgan Bisch.

Bisch is one of 16 Portage High students enrolled in the dual-credit Certified Nursing Assistant program, a partnership, in its second year, between Madison College, Divine Savior Healthcare and the Portage Community School District.

Bisch wants to be a nurse, and this year she’s worked to master difficult medical terminology in Ziegler’s health careers class. Ziegler is in her 32nd year teaching in the district, most of them as a physical education teacher. She’s led the school’s health science department since 2011.

“I love helping people,” Bisch said. She’s a member of HOSA (Future Health Professionals), for which Ziegler is the school’s adviser.

“In the beginning, we learned how to make a hospital bed, and then we went to the hospital and did it,” senior Hayley Derge said of the CNA program. She wants to be an OBGYN. The CNA program is straightforward: The students learn everything from placing respiratory tubes in patients to cleaning dentures, going to the hospital once a week to practice whatever they’ve learned.

“We work with a lot of amazing people,” Derge said of her classmates, teachers and patients. At first she thought the nursing assistant program would be difficult, but Ziegler and others helped her to see that “it’s all basically common sense,” and commitment matters most.

In February, Bisch will participate in a music and memory program, another second-year partnership between the school and hospital. In this program, Ziegler’s students use music to encourage memories in patients suffering from dementia at Tivoli nursing home.

“The students interview the patients, asking them questions that could get their memory going within an era,” and then students play music from within that era to aid memories, Ziegler said. It’s a program with significant early returns.

“The whole premise is to look at academic career planning,” Ziegler said of blossoming opportunities in Health Science, opportunities that “usually only the big schools have.”

Students in her class learn, among other things, “how a hospital runs.” Portage students in HOSA — which has 74 members this year — gain job shadows and perform community service, such as a recent food drive for St. Vincent de Paul. Students enrolled in the CNA program might soon find work, seamlessly, within the hospital. Students in the music and memory program gain an array of personal experiences — experiences that might be difficult to imagine.

Careers vary so much that what matters most to Ziegler is variety in student options, especially at a time when nurses are in high demand across the U.S.

“In everything we do, we learn to improve and make it better,” Ziegler said. “In health care, everything needs to be precisely accurate. They work in teams, work with each other, and that’s what these classes provide.

“They come out of their shells.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter