‘A little scary’ and ‘a blessing’

WJMS teacher and student share impact of classroom experience …

The “three Rs” of education today – rigor, relevance, and relationships – had a real impact on a local family and a Jackson County School System teacher.

Mason Saldana, an eighth-grader at West Jackson Middle School, and Brenton Ruark, his healthcare science connections teacher, recently learned more about the importance of both teaching and learning, and Mason’s mom explained it best in a letter she recently sent to school officials.

WJMS eighth-grader Mason Saldana and his healthcare science teacher Brenton Ruark

WJMS eighth-grader Mason Saldana and his healthcare science teacher Brenton Ruark

Leah Saldana said she and her husband believe the skills their son learned from Mr. Ruak saved her life after a scary incident the evening of Oct. 20 when she experienced a seizure, followed by vomiting and unconsciousness.

“My husband had no phone reception inside our home and had to go outside to call 911,” she wrote. Her son “jumped right in, holding my head to the side, and ensuring I had a pulse and I was in a position as to not aspirate while I was having a seizure and in and out of consciousness/vomiting.

“Mason was calm and knew exactly what to do in the situation, even though he was watching this happen to his mother. He kept me safe, (using) his knowledge from the Healthcare Science class, until EMS arrived to take me to the hospital. Though he wasn’t able to get much sleep that evening, he went to school the next day as usual.”

Mason was calm and matter-of-fact in explaining his role when he and Mr. Ruark recently created a “JC Success Story” video, a feature of the school system’s website that celebrates student accomplishments based on classroom experiences.

The young man admitted that the situation was “a little scary,” but he said the fact that Mr. Ruark had taught his students about basic lifesaving and first aid made it possible for him to help his mother, putting her in “the recovery position” he’d learned about in class.

The Braselton News shared the story on its front page in the Nov. 27, 2019, edition

The Braselton News shared the story on its front page in the Nov. 27, 2019, edition

There was no question that what Mason learned in school had relevance in his real life.

“I think teachers sometimes wonder if what they’re doing makes a difference,” Mr. Ruark said, acknowledging that the Saldana family’s experience brought that home for him.

Hearing about Mason’s experience “made my heart happy,” Mr. Ruark said. “I know it was a blessing.”

Mr. Ruark is in his first year at WJMS, teaching healthcare science to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, as well as a high-school-level introductory class in the Allied Health & Medicine and Honors pathway for advanced students.

He taught previously at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, where he is in his third year as a baseball and football coach.

A 2018 graduate of the University of North Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, he’s working on a master’s degree in physical education at Georgia State University, both of which have involved “a lot of health science classes,” he said with a smile.

His mother, who retired as a counselor at West Hall Middle School Nov. 22, taught elementary school for 20 years, was a factor in his career choice.

“Her background and her encouragement and the fact that I love being around kids” led him into education, he said, as did work as a lifeguard and aquatics director for the YMCA in Gainesville.

His students’ work in learning about CPR provided a pathway to Mason’s success, he said.

Even though it wasn’t a specific part of the curriculum, “we had some conversations about the recovery position and first aid” and talked about seizure protocols, he explained, and he said he was surprised when he got an email about a post Mrs. Saldana made on her Facebook page about her experience.

“Mason is very intelligent,” Mr. Ruark said. “In class, it’s clear he wants to learn, and he heard what I had to say.”

But hearing the words and learning the techniques are just part of the lesson. Putting those elements together and into action are another.

“I’ve trained a lot of lifeguards,” Mr. Ruark said, “but I don’t know if they’ve ever used the training.

“Having a student who is able to take what he learned in school and apply it in a real-life situation is amazing. To be able to stay calm in that situation is awesome.”

He praised Dr. Melissa Conway, WJMS principal, and his colleagues for the support he’s received in his first year at the school, and he offered special praise for Deenene Chandler, healthcare pathways teacher at JCCHS, who helped ensure CPR “dummies” were available for the middle school classes.

“Relationships make all the difference, and we have some really great staff and great kids in Jackson County,” he said.

Mason’s mom agreed with those reflections.

“Had it not been for the Healthcare Science class and the detailed teaching provided by Mr. Ruark, Mason would not have known how to react or what to do in this situation,” Mrs. Saldana wrote.

“The content that is being taught and to the extent of detail it is being taught is nothing short of amazing.”

She said she and the medical professionals she is working with believe the care provided by Mason that evening “saved my life (and prevented) further injury, thanks to the teachings of this class and Mason’s use of the content he has been magnificently taught by Mr. Ruark.”

The Jackson County Board of Education is expected to recognize the impact of the teaching-and-learning experience at its monthly meeting Dec. 10 at East Jackson Middle School.

WJMS is one of 10 schools in the Jackson County School System, which serves approximately 8,300 students in pre-K through 12th grade across Jackson County.

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