New internship program at Turners Falls High School helps students explore health care

  • From left, Raygan Pendriss, Jillian Reynolds, Nikolas Martin, Cady Wozniak and Ricky Pareja are among the students participating in Turners Falls High School’s new health care internship program. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2021 5:01:05 PM

TURNERS FALLS — A new internship program at Turners Falls High School for students interested in health care professions launched with its first class of six students this year, and is expected to grow in the years to come.

The program, which is administered by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), covers the students’ four high school years, and culminates with a 100-hour internship during their senior year.

Since Turners Falls High School was approved for DESE’s Innovation Pathways program in 2020, it is the only school in Franklin County to offer such a program, according to Gill-Montague Regional School District’s Director of Teaching and Learning Christine Limoges. According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, Turners Falls High School is one of 49 high schools in the state with an Innovation Pathways programs, making for a total of 121 different pathways.

The program’s first class of six students, which started earlier in 2021, includes freshmen and sophomores who pointed to different reasons for their interest in the health care field.

Ricky Pareja, a freshman, said he was inspired by his mother, who works in social services.

“I like seeing her help people,” he said. “So I just have a general interest in this program.”

Jillian Reynolds, also a freshman, said she is interested in working in the medical field, but doesn’t know what exactly she wants to do.

“I want to do this just to see what it would be like,” she said.

One of the program’s goals is to help students clarify what most interests them, said Turners Falls High School Principal Joanne Menard.

Starting later this year, students will have opportunities to talk with local workers from a variety of health care and social service fields, Menard said. Those talks are planned to be a regular part of the program in future years, too.

“We want to expose them to a variety,” Menard said. “Then they can decide on their own what their passion is, what they’re interested in.”

Many students who say they are interested in health care actually don’t know about the kinds of careers that exist in the health care industry — they only know about doctors and nurses, said Beth Fortin, a guidance counselor at Turners Falls High School. Showing them different kinds of careers within health care is another goal of the Innovation Pathways program, she said.

“They feel like those are the only two professions in the medical field,” she said. “But there are so many different facets of working in the health care industry. There are many different options that are available to them that they may not be aware of.”

The curriculum, apart from the senior year internship, requires students to take several advanced science classes over the course of their high school education.

Science teacher Megan Murphy said the focus on real-world applications of science helps students understand the relevance of their classes.

“It automatically gives an answer to the question that teachers get all the time, which is, ‘When am I going to use this in real life?’” Murphy said. “It brings validation to the stuff that we’re already learning about in class, and makes it more aligned with the goals that they already have for themselves.”

Students also get professional certifications for CPR, first aid and workplace safety, which are required for certain kinds of jobs.

“I figured I could use those to get a job in the health care field while I’m working through college,” commented sophomore Cady Wozniak.

Cady, who said she is interested in taking a pre-med program in college, said she was drawn to the Innovation Pathways program because of how career-oriented it is. She compared it to the kinds of programs available at Franklin County Technical School, but added that it allows her to stay in a more traditional high school at the same time.

“For people who don’t want to go to Tech but want that experience of getting into the work field,” she said, “this is a good way.”

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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