The first class of personal support worker (PSW) students is about halfway through Near North District School Board’s (NNDSB) unique program, which re-engages learners while assisting to close the gap in employment needs in the healthcare sector. The program sees students learn in living classrooms – they learn theory and often within hours are on the floor putting into practice what they’ve just learned.
The program is running in Parry Sound and North Bay, with community partners Belvedere House and Cassellholme, which are providing the classroom space and mentorship of the PSW students.
The in-class sessions will wrap up June 30, then students will have to fulfil placement hours in both long-term care and community care settings.
In North Bay, instructor Nancy Corbett is no stranger to Cassellholme. She’s been a registered practical nurse (RPN) there for 25 years and has worked as a preceptor for practical nursing students.
She loves teaching in the living classroom, where students start to learn slowly with portering and feeding residents before they learn about hygiene and other aspects of care. Corbett says when students get to shadow PSWs, they learn by seeing others do the work, then get to try it themselves. She says living classrooms “are the way to teach. It’s the way to go,” because of the shortened timeframe between learning and doing.
The hands-on learning is what appealed to Arianna Poullas. The North Bay resident studied for a year at college but didn’t enjoy learning in a classroom from a textbook. The PSW program appealed to her because after theoretical learning, there is application of the knowledge.
“I like being able to do things with my hands,” says Poullas. “It makes things make sense to me.”
She says the small class size helps the group all feel like family, and says it’s been like that since the first day. The students are supportive of each other, and Poullas says this is the best program she’s ever been involved in. She says learning by reading “just doesn’t stick in my head”; she likes being out on the floor and is happy to not be learning solely by books.
PSW student Jillian Hewitt is also a part-time employee and single mom who enjoys the flexibility of the program.
She enjoys observing and learning from the PSWs, as she finds every person does things a little differently. Watching the others lets her find the best way for her to do the job.
Hewitt says the program is well-organized and the way it’s been taught has made the content “easy to absorb.” She feels supported by Corbett, her peers and staff at Cassellholme, and is confident in the skills she will have when she graduates after her placement hours.
Poullas loves working with Cassellholme’s residents and is hoping for a job in long-term care. She’s already been hired in the home’s Helping Hands program; Cassellholme Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jamie Lowery says it’s like a pre-PSW job position in which staff assist the PSWs.
Poullas is one of seven of the PSW students who have been hired as Helping Hands at Cassellholme. Lowery says the work that was done in vetting candidates has created a class of students who have “an inherent desire to be a PSW.” He says staff is “blown away” by the quality of students and of the course being taught.
NNDSB’s intake process is credited with successful inaugural classes.
Lisa Spencer, who facilitates specialist high skills majors and experiential learning for NNDSB says, “Our intake process consisted of an initial literacy assessment and interview where our team had the opportunity to meet and support each student individually. As a continuing education program, not all our students came to us with their high school diploma so really understanding the pathway for our students helped us to support the initiation process. We can see that our intake process is supportive, and we are very proud of all our students. They can earn their high school diploma while participating in a state of the art post-secondary program.”
Corbett says the interview process gleaned candidates who were best suited to the work of a PSW and who displayed the commitment needed to complete the course. Lowery says he was impressed with NNDSB and its flexibility in designing the program. Teaching learners to deal with difficult people is a skill that the PSW students can use in many aspects of life, not just at work.
He adds that for some, working as a PSW may be only the first step in a healthcare career. Cassellholme has a training budget for its staff which can help people meet their career goals.
There are plans to run the PSW program in September in West Nipissing and Mattawa, too. People interested in taking the PSW course can visit this page for more information. It contains links to an information session, information about the literacy assessment, and a fillable form to register interest in the program. Spaces are limited so potential students are urged to register as soon as possible.