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Students learn to be athletic aides

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Tenth-grader Melonie Campbell practices ankle wrapping techniques on Lejenae Johnson, a 12th-grader at Rockdale County High School, during the athletic aide training at the Rockdale Career Academy last week. The students are part of a summer camp that trains them to serve as student athletic aides for Rockdale County school sports teams next school year.

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Tenth-grader Melonie Campbell practices ankle wrapping techniques on Lejenae Johnson, a 12th-grader at Rockdale County High School, during the athletic aide training at the Rockdale Career Academy last week. The students are part of a summer camp that trains them to serve as student athletic aides for Rockdale County school sports teams next school year.

CONYERS -- High school students are learning skills over the summer that will help them care for injured athletes next school year.

For the fifth year, the athletic aides program at Rockdale County Public Schools is holding a summer camp at Rockdale Career Academy for high school students to learn skills needed to provide services during athletic events next school year.

Students learn how to assist with minor injuries and basic wound care that occur in sports, as well as taping, stretching and other preventative measures. They also get certified in CPR and first aid and study anatomy and rehabilitation, among other skills.

This year 17 students are participating in the program. That includes 11 beginning students and two seniors from each high school.

"This is the largest beginner class I've had since the inaugural year," said Kechia Rowles, athletic coordinator and trainer for RCPS, who leads the program over the summer.

She said word of mouth and recognizing her and her students during events have helped spread interest in the program. Also, Rowles said more and more coaches are seeing the benefit of having these students on hand at events.

"I decided I wanted to be a football manager, but then I found out about this," said Micalea Robinson, a rising junior at Heritage High School. "I'm competitive, and this is a lot more difficult than people think it is."

Students said they enjoy helping out in sports like football, wrestling and basketball, and many of them are considering the sports medicine field as a profession.

"I want to go into physical therapy and go to school for athletic training," said Layne Jackson, a rising senior at Salem High School, about why she wants to be in the program that she has been a part of for three years. "I enjoy the connection I have with all of the athletes."

By being in the program, she knows that she's ahead of many of her fellow classmates and will know more about the field when she enters college.

"I've learned a lot -- more than I expected to learn about a career at this point," she said. "I'm ahead of the game."

Students who enter the program will sign up to work with middle or high school sports teams next school year to assist with minor injuries that occur during practices or games. Students must maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average, like student athletes, to remain in the program.

In the fall, RCA will offer for the first time a curriculum-based program that is part of the health care pathway for students interested in the athletic aide field. Rowles hopes the program will expand in the future.

So far, six former students in the program are at post-secondary institutions continuing their studies in the field. Rowles said that students could go on to have careers in the sports medicine field like athletic trainers, physical and recreational therapists and strength and conditioning specialists, among others.