School. Work. Private life. Do these mix? They mixed beautifully at St. Mary’s Hospital June 14 as eight very happy people graduated from St. Mary’s School at Work (SAW) program, with their families, friends, and staff members celebrating right along with them.
For the past six months, the eight met for two hours every Thursday with coaches Kathy Brown and Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff to solidify and expand their capabilities in writing and communication skills, computer use, math, grammar, medical terminology, and patient satisfaction and to hear from other St. Mary’s staff about different career options. Students work at their own pace, guided by the coaches using career-development modules developed by Catalyst Learning in Louisville, Ken. The program, which participants have to pass a test to get into (and out of), “improves the performance of loyal support-level health-care employees in their current positions, prepares them for job advancement within the hospital, and revitalizes their dreams of continued education,” the graduation poster explained.
SAW “was a natural progression for us,” said St. Mary’s president Frank Byrne. “We had offered English as a second language classes for many years and were looking for something to build on this. Also, there are so many changes in the health-care field that we all have to keep learning. So when our headquarters in St. Louis invited us, we agreed to be the pilot. This is the fifth class.”
Linda Taplin Statz was director of Human Resources when St. Mary’s was offered a scholarship by corporate headquarters to pilot the program. Brown and Hargrove-Krieghoff, who were already on the St. Mary’s staff, agreed to co-chair it. “I think they found it very rewarding,” Taplin Statz said. “They learned a lot. Now it’s part of our culture, and we’re pursuing the possibility of expanding the program to our other sites: St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, St. Mary’s Care Center in Madison, and St. Clare Meadows Care Center in Baraboo.”
It was clear that Hargrove-Krieghoff, also director of St. Mary’s’ Child Care Center and the interim executive leadership support for Environmental Services and Security, and Brown of the Human Resources Department find SAW rewarding. Smiles and hugs were everywhere, and the room they set up was warm and festive. Hargrove-Krieghoff began the ceremony with a reflection on meaning, “something you build into your life,” she said. “Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you.”
The graduates had benefited, she noted, from the academics presented in SAW, but they had benefited in other ways as well: improved job performance, teamwork, initiative, attitude, and self-confidence. The course was also a pipeline to other positions, she said.
Each of the graduates then commented on what SAW had meant to him or her.
Shamika Blackshire: “The SAW program has given me … the courage to stay focused on what lies ahead … I have signed up to take the test to enter college and continue my education to be a nurse.” A dialysis technician, Blackshire said she felt bad leaving coworkers with extra work on Thursdays, but they said, “’Go, Shamika, go! It’s a good program,’” demonstrating the St. Mary’s teamwork so evident at this event.
Darlene Pearson, a housekeeper in Environmental Services, said SAW “meant getting out of my comfort zone by turning off the computer and TV and using my brain cells that God gave me.” The math portion had scared her off for several years, but her niece encouraged her and even offered to coach her. “Did I learn something?” Pearson queried. “You bet I did! … School at Work has been a real eye opener.”
Grace Banamwana, a technician in Sterile Processing originally from Rwanda, said her manager introduced her to the program. She’d been a little bit afraid, she said, because English is not her first language. “But I liked it. I’m setting goals about going back to school. I got to meet people from other departments … In a few months I learned a lot, for example, math, medical terminology, and grammar.”
Ken Case, an instrument technician in Sterile Processing, signed up for SAW “to learn medical terminology to help me get my Sterile Processing Department certification,” but the program turned out to be much more, he said. “The chapter on Mastering Communication in the Workplace changed my outlook overall in and outside the workplace.” He thanked the coaches for their dedication and staff who spoke to the class.
Philip Ley declared that “every day we were inspired to be successful … After six months in the School at Work classes, I have found myself intrigued with going back to school for electrical code updates. I found myself challenged and inspired to move forward from being a power plant operator to being an electrical inspector. I will start my classes this fall.” He expressed much appreciation for the support SAW offered.
Tironda Jones, charge person and interim supervisor in Environmental Services, said SAW was “an awesome motivation for someone who hasn’t been in school for a long time. It has inspired me to go for my bachelor’s degree … It has allowed me to show my children that I can get back to school to further my career and be a positive role model for them … I thank St. Mary’s for allowing the program to be here.”
Linda Pottinger, a senior Information Systems analyst, said SAW “is a fabulous program that offers a safe environment to refresh grammar, math, and life skills learned many years ago, … an excellent confidence builder to assure participants that they have the skills to continue their education.” She said the lessons she had learned were from her classmates and named a valuable one she had learned from each of them.
Pam Wieser, a Nursing Administration Department secretary, said her plan was “to use my new skills within my present position, to be forward thinking and see where this journey can take me. Our SAW class was a group of eight very different individuals when we first met … I treasure the friendships that were made along the way.” She’d learned a lot about herself as well and appreciated the support she’d gotten.
President Frank Byrne presented each graduate with a certificate and a pin to wear on their name tag. “Congratulations, and maybe even more, thank you,” he said. He showed he knew each graduate well and appreciated each one’s work for the hospital and their growth in the SAW program, again demonstrating the St. Mary’s teamwork spirit so evident at this event. “You make us all feel better about working at St. Mary’s and SSM Healthcare,” he said. Graduate Tironda Jones brought the event to a close by presenting coaches Kathy Brown and Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff with flowers and a hug of appreciation.