Walking a mile in their shoes: College Heights students build empathy through experiential health care course

October 14, 2016


GUELPH, Ontario – Students at College Heights Secondary School are gaining experiential knowledge about caring for children and the elderly, and building empathy along the way.

CHSS teacher Erin McIntosh teaches health care in grades 9 through 12. Her grade 12 Child Development & Gerontology class allows students to examine both the stages of child development and the aging process.

But what the students learn is so much more than theory.

College Heights health care class 1

McIntosh has designed the course to focus on real, hands-on experiences to make the assignments and activities as realistic as possible. Through the support and funding of the board’s Specialist High Skills Major program she has been able to purchase different pieces of simulation equipment, including wheelchairs and visual simulation glasses.

The glasses, for example, allow students to experience what it’s like to live with glaucoma, macular degeneration, or retinal detachment. The exercise gives them a more realistic experience of visual impairments, they learn what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of someone living with these conditions.

College Heights health care class 3

“I like to do that exercise early in the semester, as it helps build empathy skills and they’ll have that understanding with them throughout the semester,” said McIntosh.

Through specialized equipment like vital signs machines and mannequins, students learn hands-on skills in patient care, including bathing and feeding assistance, toileting, lifting and moving patients. The course also teaches them lessons around infection control, anatomy and health care ethics.

McIntosh also ensures her class gets real-life experiences outside of the classroom. Every two weeks, they walk to Stone Lodge Retirement Residence in Guelph. There they interact and socialize with the residents, play games and give them lessons on using devices like iPads.

College Heights health care class 2

Students also take a trip to Conestoga College each year to learn about potential post-secondary programs and career paths.

McIntosh built the course from the ground up, and now in its third year, she’s excited about the progress it has made.

The course material progresses through the grades, with her grade 9 class set up as an exploratory course that introduces students to health care, while her grade 10s learn about personal care and first aid. The grade 11 course begins to focus on patient care, and in grade 12 the focus shifts to patient care with children and the elderly. Students are able to enter the courses at any point in their high school career.

McIntosh’s students are positive and engaged; many of them are passionate about pursuing a career in health care after graduation. Regardless of the path they take after high school, however, they are all excited to be learning about something that is so important. “Health affects everyone,” said McIntosh.

College Heights health care class 4

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For more information:
Heather Loney, Communications and Community Engagement Officer
Upper Grand District School Board
519-822-4420 ext.725
heather.loney@ugdsb.on.ca