FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Performing animal surgeries inside a high school classroom. It's happening at one St. Lucie County public school, preparing students for careers right after graduation.
For veterinarian Dr. Alec Wynne from Okeechobee Veterinary Hospital, neutering a dog is pretty routine.
But for high school students at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy, it's a hands-on learning experience, better than any textbook.
"I was monitoring vitals," said student Malachi Araya. "So I was checking the heart rate to make sure the oxygen flow is good. Checking the blood pressure."
"There are things that they have no words to tell you how to do it," said teacher Brittany Shoun. "You have to see it. You have to experience it."
Shoun is a graduate of the Veterinary Assisting Program herself, now revitalizing it to make sure students get the exposure they need to land a job after they graduate.
"Getting to show them what I had as a passion is awesome," Shoun said. "I can just see it in them that they have that same passion. They are wanting to be in the same field. So it's been a really good experience."
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In the Veterinary Assisting Program at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy, students work with a variety of animals, learning what it takes to care for them.
They take a veterinary assistant certification exam when they are 16 years old. Once they pass, students like Araya can assist with surgeries in the classroom.
"It's been a lot of fun. I really enjoy it," Araya said. "It's really great getting to work hands-on and interact with different doctors. They all do things differently."
Shoun said students with the certification can immediately enter the work force after the graduate from the program.
"They can start working with licensed veterinarians and they will be the nurse assistant at that point," Shoun said. "Assistant is kind of the lower-end. And then they can work their way up to technician. So right from the get-go, they are going to be assisting with the technician hands-on with patients right up front. They can do reception work and they'll be doing kennel work, clean up. And they are actually the backbone for everything to flow all the way up to the vet."
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Shoun said more than 30 students are currently certified and more than 150 students are participating in the program.
During a surgery on June 3, two students helped Dr. Wynne with the neuter procedure on Ryder, a golden retriever that belongs to a school employee.
"The students were able to intubate and give pre-medication that introduces the anesthesia gases," Shoun said. "From there, the doctor allowed the students to help out in the surgical procedures and then do post-operative care."
For students like Araya, who wants to become a veterinarian someday, the interaction is invaluable.
"It's definitely helped me with my confidence in being sure this is something I want to do," Araya said.
"It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside," Shoun said. "I really have put a lot of work into this, but seeing it come from the student makes it that much better."
The program recently invested in new technology, allowing the class to watch surgeries on a screen in the classroom. That signal can be broadcast live to the school community so others can see what is happening as well.
Middle school students are able to watch the surgery in action to see if it's a program they want to apply for themselves.
WATCH VIDEO OF SURGERY:
Students who are interested in the program can apply through the student assignment process during their eighth grade year.
Dr. Wynne, along with other local veterinarians, volunteer their time to perform surgeries with the students assisting.
Students from across St. Lucie County can apply to attend the Veterinary Assisting Program at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy. For more information, click here.
To learn more about all the career and technical education opportunities in St. Lucie Public Schools, click here.