Local Schools

Saints learn to discover their path by first finding themselves

Instructor Megan Cobb, far left, explains to Overland Park’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School students how the mannequin in the Nursing Simulation Lab at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, breathes, blinks and simulates verbal responses. Students can practice checking the patient’s pulse, blood pressure, urinary catheter, nasogastric tube placement, etc. COURTESY PHOTO

by Tom Racunas
Special to The Leaven

OVERLAND PARK — St. Thomas Aquinas High School here is in the second year of its “We Are Called” campaign, an initiative to create new learning environments and sports facilities.

More importantly, the campaign also includes a new mission focus for Aquinas faculty, staff and students.

The effort began when Brian Schenck, president of St. Thomas Aquinas, and Craig Moss, principal, were both serving in principal roles. They noticed that many of their students were exploring college and possible fields of study, but they didn’t know their strengths.

“The faculty and staff are helping our students pursue those interests through a unique lens,” Schenck explained. “They emphasize to the students that God is calling them. They are not just pursuing a career but pursuing a career to use the strengths that God has blessed them with.”

“The church does a good job of encouraging religious vocations,” he continued, “but it is our job to introduce students to other vocations. We tell our students that there is something God has planned for them that is different than their friend.

“No two saints had the same path toward spreading God’s love, so we shouldn’t expect all of our students to take the same path. Our journeys need to help us discover what we are good at. We need to provide our students with more opportunities to discover and experience that.”

To that end, an Academic Pathways program was developed that changes graduation requirements and gives students more flexibility in course offerings.  Some of those courses will offer a more in-depth view of careers, especially in business/finance, engineering and health sciences through high quality, hands-on experiences in real work environments.

Currently, all types of health care professionals are in short supply. The American Hospital Association estimates that the industry will face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2033. And at least 200,000 nurses a year are needed to meet rising demands. Schenck believes that if more students can recognize their interests and strengths in health sciences early, they will select the right vocation for themselves which will then help reduce the shortage.

So, through a partnership with the St. Luke’s College of Nursing at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, Aquinas students had the opportunity first semester to enroll in a health sciences course that put them into direct contact with health care providers.

“Our students are able to learn by solving real-world problems with real tools mentored by industry professionals,” said Schenck.

The curriculum is divided into two parts:  online learning and attending a lab at Rockhurst. The online learning included content such as the principles of nursing, medical terminology and abbreviations, and cultural differences in health care. Guest speakers addressed such topics as the workings of a burn unit, their career path into health care administration and how to survive nursing school.

Led by health care practitioners, the lab experience taught students, practicing on medical mannequins, how to draw blood and insert a catheter. They learned how to take blood pressure and pulse.

Jennifer Jones, a faculty member at Aquinas, was the proctor for the class.

“There was such excitement in learning,” said Jones. “The students could see how people in the field really enjoyed their job. Once the students began to learn the skills, you could see the change in their interest and excitement.”

 Schenck said they were hoping that 10 students would enroll in the course. 24 enrolled.

“The College of Nursing was very pleased,” he said. “They said they could accommodate 50 students next fall.”

One of the students who took the class was Sidney Zinkus, a senior.

“My father is a radiologist and my mother is a nurse,” she said. “I always had an interest in medicine because of my parents’ work. I was thinking about a career in media design.”

“I signed up for the class because I heard great things about Rockhurst and the instructor,” explained Zinkus. “The experience gave me great insights. Every medical person we encountered was full of joy and loved their work. I walked away feeling more in love with medicine. I know that this is what I want to do. I am definitely going to pursue the pre-med track in college.” 

An added benefit for Zinkus was exactly what the faculty and staff at Aquinas are hoping for.

“I realized that in talking to the professionals, I could be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said. “I could serve people. I learned the ‘I’m Third Rule’:  God first, others second and myself third.” 

The “We Are Called” campaign takes its inspiration from Pope Francis who said, “It is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints. . . . Always and everywhere, YOU can become a saint.”

The Saints of St. Thomas Aquinas High School are learning to do just that.

For more information about the “We Are Called” campaign, visit the website at: www.stasaints.net.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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