Students attending the University of Texas—University Charter School on the Waco campus of Methodist Children’s Home have numerous opportunities to prepare for the future at a two-year community college, four-year university, vocational school, or the workforce.
Two such opportunities for youth to learn workplace preparedness and receive actual job certifications are the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA) and the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy (GWAHCA). Both academies launched in 2015 and are facilitated by the Waco Independent School District.
GWAMA is a collaboration with the Waco Business League, Greater Waco Chamber and Texas State Technical College. The academy offers students advanced technical and manufacturing training in areas such as welding, construction science, electronics and robotics, and architecture. The program is open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students enrolled in GWAMA can earn advanced workforce certificates and have opportunities for jobs with area businesses after high school.
Daniel and Cesar, residents at the MCH Boys Ranch, are enrolled in GWAMA this year.
GWAHCA is a unique and innovative collaboration between the local healthcare community and Waco area schools. GWAHCA is a challenging learning environment for juniors and seniors that encourages high expectations for student success in the healthcare field. The academy empowers students to be competitive and prepared to enter and contribute to the workforce.
Students participating in GWAHCA earn science and math credits and receive hands-on experience through classes such as medical microbiology, anatomy and physiology, world health research, and pharmacology, among others.
Frezer and Lacey live on the MCH Waco campus and are enrolled in the healthcare academy.
According to Amy Grisham, director of school support at the charter school, 13 MCH students have gone through GWAMA and GWAHCA since the two academies opened.
“Our youth work incredibly hard in these programs on various projects, skills and activities,” Grisham said. “It is a pleasure for MCH to be a partner with GWAMA and GWAHCA and share in these experiences.
“Being able to learn a skill or a trade is so beneficial for their future success, and I love seeing our students being open to these opportunities and excelling in both programs,” she added. “These challenging work environments encourage high expectations for student success which prepares them all the more for their future in life and in the workforce.”
Students attend the academies each day from 9 a.m. to noon then return to the charter school for afternoon classes.
Cesar, a sophomore, is enrolled in a GWAMA certification program for construction.
“I wanted to do this because it will give me the ability to get a job in construction and already be certified, while other workers have to get certified while on the job,” he said. “GWAMA helps me get ahead.”
Cesar said he enjoys the classes because they give hands-on experience in a variety of skills.
“We do a lot in the classes every day,” he said. “Not only do we learn about the job, we also learn about tool safety and things like that.”
Receiving a broad exposure to carpentry, masonry and even electronics gives GWAMA students the opportunity to find which profession could be ideal for their future.
“Being in GWAMA gives me more options later on when considering what career path I want to take,” Cesar said. “I think it would be interesting to work in mechanical engineering and do something with machines. But if that doesn’t happen, it will be good to have experience and certifications in construction to fall back on.”
Daniel, a senior, is graduating in May 2022. Since being a part of GWAMA, he has found he particularly enjoys construction and feels the academy has equipped him well to step into a job should he decide to go down that path.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning the basics of construction,” he said. “It’s not just building something, it’s learning how to measure correctly, how to cut wood and do it well.”
Daniel said he aspires to go to college and study engineering.
“This program has been really good because it has shown me all the things I could do professionally,” he said. “It gives me hands-on experience and a head start by earning certifications. I think this will help me a lot in the future.”
Shawna Damiani, case manager at the Boys Ranch, said it is impressive to see Daniel and Cesar apply themselves to the GWAMA program and represent MCH well in the process.
“The GWAMA program is helping them learn marketable skills they will be able to use after graduation if they choose that direction,” she said.
“While it is great to see them apply themselves, another awesome thing is the feedback we continue to get from the instructors at the academy about how well liked the guys are. They have really found an encouraging atmosphere there, which is just as important as the training – even if the boys don’t recognize that at this point in time.”
Frezer, a junior, is participating in the healthcare academy and is pursuing a certification in pharmacology. With the certification, she will qualify to gain employment as a pharmacy technician.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor,” Frezer said. “When Ms. Amy [Grisham] came to talk to us about GWAHCA, I was immediately interested and I wanted to find out more about it. She told me about the medical work and training and I knew that was something I wanted to do.
“Since I want to be a doctor I thought this would be a great way to start off,” she added. “When I go to college and study medicine, this will help me be ahead, especially with people who haven’t had any hands-on experience yet.”
In the pharmacy track, Frezer learns about pharmaceutical drugs and industry standards and guidelines. For fun, students compete against one another to match medications with their prescribed uses. Ultimately, Frezer still holds out on her dream to be a doctor.
“I want to save peoples’ lives, but,” – she said, laughing – “I don’t know if my hands will be too shaky to be a surgeon, so having a second plan as a pharmacist is what I’m doing.”
“Frezer has made such a great effort to do well in school and I’m so proud of her accomplishments,” said Suzanne Frerich, Frezer’s case manager. “She decided to participate in the GWAHCA program to learn new skills and to enhance her career field knowledge for her future. She continues to work hard daily to complete the program so that she can have more opportunities in the medical field she chooses.”
Lacey, a junior, is on track to earn a certification as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) through GWAHCA.
“I know my involvement in GWAHCA and any certification I earn will be helpful, especially as I think about applying for colleges,” she said. “Colleges will look at my work ethic and what I’ve done to put myself ahead, so being a part of GWAHCA will definitely benefit my future.”
Clinicals for the CNA certification at GWAHCA teach many of the practices students will follow in real-life healthcare scenarios – gathering samples, learning to identify infections, CPR for adults and infants, taking blood pressure measurements, and relevant exercises such as identifying COVID-19 pathogens, Lacey described.
Lacey said she ultimately wants to attend veterinarian school and knows everything she learns in GWAHCA will help her.
“I’ve always had a heart for animals and I want to help the community,” she said. “I considered being a medical doctor, but animals tend to behave better and don’t talk back as much as people do,” she added with a laugh.
Frerich, Lacey’s case manager, said her enthusiasm for participating in the academy is making a positive impact.
“She was excited and eager to participate in the GWAHCA program because she knew she could learn new skills, meet new people and it would give her opportunities that could shape her future in a positive way,” Frerich said. “I’m so proud of Lacey and how the program helps her strive to better herself in all that she does.”
“I think I’ve grown a lot and matured since I came to MCH, especially since I began this professional type of work at GWAHCA,” Lacey said. “Early on, I knew how to get by, but now I am working to set up a suitable life for myself.”
Grisham said the theme at the charter school this year is: “What starts here, changes the world, one student at a time.”
“We always encourage our students to think big and dream big because we know they are our future and have the capability to do amazing things,” she said. “The GWAMA and GWAHCA programs empower our youth and prepare them for great things.”