State's first high school veterinary science program to get bigger this fall
A regional veterinary science program at Central High School near Burlington -- the first of its kind in the state -- will see a surge in enrollment this fall as more Kane County high school districts join.
Burlington-based Central Unit District 301 launched the state's first comprehensive veterinary science program at the high school level last school year to help address a statewide shortage of veterinary assistants. It is being offered as part of a regional career pathways cooperative -- the Northern Kane County Regional Vocational System -- to member districts: District 301; Elgin Area School District U-46; Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300; and St. Charles Unit District 303. Through the partnership, students from these districts can take courses not offered at their home schools.
In the first year, 112 students from District 301 and U-46 completed the introduction to agriculture and animal science course. This fall, 57 students from that first batch will begin externships at Fox Valley-area veterinary clinics, hospitals and doggy day care centers to gain hands-on experience.
A new group of 110 sophomores from U-46 and District 301 also will be enrolling this fall, along with five students from District 300 who will be taking the introductory and second-year veterinary courses concurrently, said Esther Mongan, District 301 assistant superintendent.
"It's pretty exciting for our students," said Mongan, adding students who are returning for the second year are "really committed."
Eventually, students from St. Charles Unit District 303 are expected to join the veterinary program, officials said.
There is growing interest in the program at U-46, said Kinasha Brown, district director of educational pathways.
"Students believe that the program is academically rigorous," said Brown, adding that students surveyed during the program's first year gave high marks to District 301's veterinary lab facilities and teachers.
District 301 worked with the Illinois State Board of Education to create its veterinary science curriculum and built a state-of-the-art lab at Central.
The three-year program, starting in sophomore year, covers a range of topics, including personal safety and animal handling, animal industry issues, species care and management, microbiology, biosecurity, anatomy and body systems, reproduction and genetics, pharmacology, hospital, lab and surgical prep procedures, laws and ethics, and even office management. Students also must complete 100 hours of nonpaid externship experience starting second semester of junior year with local veterinary clinics, animal shelters or hospitals before they can be certified as veterinary assistants.
"We have partnered with 19 sites throughout the northern Kane County region to allow our students to complete this experience," Brown said.
District 301's program meets entry-level competency standards and guidelines established by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. After completing it, students can take the national test to become an approved veterinary assistant and earn college credit allowing them to graduate a year earlier.
District 301 also has a partnership with Fox College in Tinley Park guaranteeing program graduates admission into an 18-month veterinary technology program.
"Every student who comes in through this regional pathway program is awarded a $2,500 scholarship," Brown said.
Other regional career pathway programs offered through the vocational system are precision manufacturing and health care science currently housed at U-46, and welding housed at U-46 and District 300 high schools.
District 301 officials expect to add more pathway programs in coming years, including plant and animal sciences.
"Down the road, we're going to have opportunities for various health occupations pathways and also cyber security," said Todd Stirn, District 301 superintendent. "We're really looking to provide our students with career pathways that can lead to certification that's both regionally and nationally recognized so that it's portable ... and provide a pathway to gainful employment."
U-46 is developing two new tracks in the health care science field -- medical assistance and patient care technician -- that students could register for in the 2020-21 school year with courses beginning the following school year. Brown expects the program will be a huge draw.
"We would be the only district in the region to house such a program," she added.
Brown said among the benefits of taking a regional approach to developing career pathways is increasing student access to high-quality career and technical education programs and sharing financial resources to minimize districts' costs for program implementation. These pathways also are aligned to federal and state initiatives to increase college and career readiness, she added.
"We are truly a best practice model," Brown said. "We are providing a framework. It's a win not only for our district but for the students as well because when you can do this type of systemic development and create access ... you really start to diminish opportunity gaps."