Letter – CNA program in sad state

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

The mission of Isle of Wight County Schools is “to enhance and expand on each child’s unique gifts and talents to ensure every child is college, career, and life ready.” A key component of this philosophy is the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. 

CTE allows students to earn certification in occupations like welding, cosmetology and culinary arts while still in high school. Specifically, I’d like to highlight the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program. The competitive program requires students to commit to half-day classes in the first semester. If they maintain a certain grade average, they spend the second semester conducting clinical training in a community medical facility. 

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Unfortunately, the CNA instructor had to make a personal decision to leave the position halfway through the school year. While IWCS Central Office was aware of this evolving situation before her departure, it didn’t develop a contingency plan other than hoping she would “honor her contract.” The impact on the students is they’ll only have the opportunity to achieve their certification well after graduation. 

Currently, the students who haven’t already dropped the course over the last couple of weeks are sitting in class doing virtually nothing, regurgitating already taught material, toward a non-certification. Their only real achievement is avoiding truancy charges. For some seniors, this is their only class as they have early release, having already met their high school graduation requirements. 

To be fair, the position isn’t easy to replace, with Central Office calling the previous instructor a “unicorn.” The CNA instructor must meet Virginia Department of Education requirements in addition to nursing licensure. The best IWCS has come up with so far is to offer the students the opportunity to participate in a local hospital’s program in the summer that will require repeating the work they have already done and ending after most students’ college start date. This plan is untenable for some students and subpar for those who can make it work. 

If anyone in the community is able to help these students, please reach out to IWCS immediately. While I remain highly supportive of CTE, the IWCS budget should focus on building the resiliency of our current CTE programs before expanding into additional career fields. What is happening to the current CNA program is a tragedy for its students. We need additional safeguards in programs already offered so this doesn’t happen again.


Heidi Swartz