CATA Health Science students complete landmark program, reflect on remarkable year

(LEFT) CATA Instructors and CNA graduates (L-R): 1st row: Yulissa Dios, West Point High School; Samantha Mullins, Fairview High School; Carmen Hudspeth, Hanceville High School; Hunter Needham, Fairview High School 2nd row: Tracy Smith, CATA Health Science instructor; CheyAnn Key, West Point High School; Destiny Hunt, Fairview High School; Sara Simmons, Hanceville High School; Adriann Basch, CATA Health Science instructor 3rd row: Alexis Jacobs, Fairview High School; Destiny Short, Hanceville High School; McKenna Sharpton, West Point High School; Chase Dupree, Fairview High School (Photo courtesy Adriann Basch) (RIGHT) CATA/Basic EMT Dual-Enrollment WSCC graduates (L-R): 1st row: Yulissa Dios, West Point High School; Samantha Mullins, Fairview High School; Hunter Needham, Fairview High School 2nd row: CheyAnn Key, West Point High School; Destiny Hunt, Fairview High School; Carmen Hudspeth, Hanceville High School; Sara Simmons, Hanceville High School 3rd row: Destiny Short, Hanceville High School; Chase Dupree, Fairview High School. McKenna Sharpton, West Point High School (Photo courtesy Adriann Basch)

CULLMAN, Ala. – This month, Cullman County high schools will graduate a group of students who will be ready to take off their caps and gowns, put on scrubs or uniforms, and go right to work in the health care field, thanks to a first-of-its-kind partnership between the Cullman Area Technology Academy (CATA) and Wallace State Community College (WSCC).  These students will graduate from high school with the necessary credentials to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) through CATA’s Health Science program, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) through dual enrollment at WSCC, or both.

CATA Health Science teacher Tracy Smith said, “The students have had a very successful year in the program, and we want to promote our partnership with WSCC while highlighting this amazing group of seniors and their accomplishments.  To our knowledge, this is the first group of its kind in the state to become a CNA and complete the Basic EMT program while students in high school.”

CNA program graduate Lexi Jacobs, whose home school is Fairview High School, told The Tribune, “This program has really helped me out because, in my junior year, I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it through school.  And this year, when I started this program, it changed me and it helped me out through everything and got me through school, and it’s got me a job for whenever I graduate. It’s just been a great experience.”

Jacobs added about her CATA instructors, “They’re great!  They’re really great. They helped me all through everything, and they’re helping me get into college.  They’re awesome!”

Groundbreaking new program prepares students to walk right into CNA and EMT jobs, except…

CATA Health Science Club President Carmen “Gracie” Hudspeth, whose home school is Hanceville High, completed both the CNA and EMT programs, and is preparing for her national certification exams.  She could go right to work in either field, except for one thing: she’s not old enough!

Hudspeth shared, “We finished our EMT.  This is the first year that we started doing EMT, and we just finished our finals this week; our last day was last Wednesday.  We get to take our national registry (exam) soon, so, by the time that we’re graduated, we’ve already got the test out of the way.  And if I was 18, I would be able to get my license or my certification. When I turn 18, I can be an EMT Basic or a CNA. I can work in a nursing home or on the ambulance.”

That’s right: this program advances students enough to produce fully qualified and certified graduates who will have to wait until their next birthday to go to work!

Hudspeth said, “It was like going through college and stuff before you’ve even gotten out of high school.  It was so new, and it was really good to have an experience, because it’s a lot different than it is in high school and stuff, like taking tests.  It was good to see what it’s like. It’s like a real health care profession, and it’s really good to see what it’s like in real life.

“We do clinicals and stuff.  I’ve got so much clinical experience already, before I’ve even gotten in nursing school.  It’s really, really helped.”

Seniors reflect on recent service trip

According to Smith, most of CATA’s Health Science seniors will graduate with around 60 hours of community service each.  Several of them racked up quite a few hours on a disaster relief trip to storm-stricken Lee County a few weeks ago, a mission of mercy that involved students from across all of CATA’s programs but which began with this group of students.  See and

Seniors shared their thoughts:

Sara Simmons

“Going down there, it was really hard to see everything.  You know, all the damage and stuff, it reminded me back of the tornadoes we had.  It was really devastating, seeing all the families. And helping, it was a good experience.”

Destiny Hunt

“When I first went down there, I was expecting it to be bad, because of what you’ve seen on the news.  But when we got down there, it’s way worse than what was on the news. And when we got to give money and stuff to the families in person, that really touched me.  It made me think I have it way better than some people, at times.”

McKenna Sharpton

“It was great, working together with everybody (from other CATA programs).  I mean, we don’t work a lot with different shops; I mean sometimes, but it was great just to get the feel of working with other shops and working as teenagers.  Just instead of being inside a house all day, it was good to work in the sun, and for a good cause that people need help with.”

Hunter Needham

“It made me feel good that we could go down there and help, as little as we did, in that we could see how much it devastated those people’s lives, and to put in an effort to help the community, really.”

Lexi Jacobs

“It was a big eye-opener to see how we can’t take life for granted.”

Yulissa Dios

“I thought it was amazing, because we picked up trash and we did what we could that day, the only day we could.  And the owners were so grateful, and I thought that was something amazing, because we were just picking up trash, and they were just so grateful we were there and thinking about them.  I thought that was really nice, that they weren’t expecting anything, but when we came and just tried to help however we could, they were just so grateful. That touched me.”

Educational leaders respond

In messages to The Tribune, administrators from CATA to WSCC shared their thoughts on the programs, and on the accomplishments of CATA’s Health Science seniors:

CATA Principal Billy Troutman

“I am very proud of these students.  They have chosen to accept the challenge of rigorous CNA preparation and a dual enrollment EMT course this year, and they have succeeded with flying colors.  These students exemplify work ethic and responsibility. They will continue to be a success and make a significant impact in the lives of the patients they serve as well as our community.”

WSCC Dean of Health Sciences Lisa German

“We are thrilled to provide this learning opportunity to complete the EMT program for the students at CATA.  It has been a wonderful experience for our faculty and has also provided a unique learning opportunity that affords these students to complete their EMT Basic Certificate in their senior year of high school.  The students have job skills that allow employment immediately and will also help to prepare them to further their education. We are very proud of this dedicated group of students that have successfully completed both their CNA and EMT Basic Certification!”

WSCC EMT Program Director Allen Patterson

“The CATA dual enrollment students were an outstanding group of students and did an excellent job completing the EMT program here as WSCC.  The teachers at CATA and Cullman County Schools should be very proud of the students completing the EMT course. I look forward to having the opportunity for future CATA students to attend the EMT program here at WSCC.”

CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette

“I am so proud of our Health Science students and their accomplishments.  I am equally proud of our Health Science instructors, Tracy Smith and Adriann Basch, for the impact that they have on these young people.  These educators are consistently looking for ways to make this program the best that it can be and ways that will help their students to be more successful.  Once again, Cullman County Schools is leading the state in helping our students to become college and career ready!”

Looking at Career Technical Education differently

Career Technical Education has come a long way since the “trade school” days.  With increasing needs for skilled labor in America’s workforce, and correspondingly increasing wages in those fields that rival income expectations from many four-year college degrees, career tech is attracting students with high standards and goals–students like CATA’s Health Science seniors.

Smith told The Tribune, “These students are a prime example of changing the myth of career tech education.  They’re in the top of their class, they’re taking advanced classes at their home school, they’re in extracurricular activities, they’re holding down jobs.  And they’re here at career teach, taking advantage of every opportunity to get ahead for college and career.”

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W.C. Mann