With the anticipation of graduation from Hays High School in mid-May, Emily Woydziak and Max Peine are planning something a little different from what most students go through during commencement weekend.

The day before their high school event, Woydziak and Peine first will take part in graduating from the North Central Kansas Technical College pharmacy technician program. upon successful completion of the program — which is one-year — they will receive their Pharmacy Technician Certificate.

The Hays High seniors are the only two high school students in the pharmacy tech program this year, but they are a part of a growing number who take part in such a process. It's something pharmacy tech instructor Brian Dechant is pleased to see happening.

"I've had one or two every year for the last three or four years," Dechant said of a high school student being in the program.

"We have both non-traditional, meaning they didn't come right out of high school and start college, they've had a few years break from school before they come back. They have to learn how to get back into studying, taking notes and doing homework. The nice thing about the high-schoolers is they are used to that. They're really good about getting their homework done and staying current in class. It's a blessing to have them. Plus, believe it or not, they can really set the example for some of the other students, because they're used to doing all that."

For three hours every morning, Peine and Woydziak start at NCK Tech on the Hays campus. In the afternoon, they are back at Hays High. Through the pharmacy tech program, and receiving a certificate of completion, students have a choice of jumping right into the professional field, or they can take what they've accomplished into college if they choose. Peine and Woydziak both have planned to move on to four-year colleges. Peine is planning to attend Wichita State University for biomedical engineering, and Woydziak will attend Fort Hays State University for pharmacy.

"I thought it was really kind of a good idea to just kind of get into my college life a little earlier, especially since I was looking into becoming a pharmacist," Woydziak said. "It would give me kind of an idea of what I would want to do, and so I just decided to do that. I'm really glad I decided to do that.

"This year has really been like a transition year. It feels like I'm still half-way in high school, half way in college. So, it's really been nice to see both sides of it and get that done."

Students such as Woydziak and Peine are given the opportunity to participate as high school and college students through Kansas Senate Bill 155, which was passed in 2012. It was put in as a way to stimulate growth in career and technical education at the secondary and post-secondary level. Through the bill, NCK Tech has benefitted in being able to bring in students into all their programs.

"It's really an eye-opener to see how college works — with things like how much time management has to be put in, and what you're going to have to do to get through college," Peine said.

Through the pharmacy tech program, the students are able not just to be able to be in a classroom setting, but to give them a hands-on approach to the field. The students have a lab class in which they can simulate working in an actual pharmacy setting. It is an opportunity to go through all the processes necessary to the job. Through a partnership Dechant has worked on with a number of pharmacies in Hays, students are given the chance to take part in an externship. It's a temporary training program in the workplace for students.

"(Students) are going out and getting hands-on experiences in the local pharmacies," Dechant said. "It's non-paid externships, so they're there to learn and getting that experience. We have them getting that hands-on experience in their second semester."

The opportunities given to students through the pharmacy tech program at NCK Tech have proven to be a farther reach than just the advantages given to high school students like Woydziak and Peine. Many who go through are non-traditional students.

Laramie Rohr, who grew up in Quinter and was in the KAMS program at Fort Hays for a year, found what he was looking for through pharmacy tech at NCK Tech.

"I was a CNA for a year," Rohr said. "I enjoy the medical field, and I'm good at it. I'm good at math, which is a heavy part of the pharmacy tech program. I decided this would be a good opportunity for me to still be in Hays, finish up my high school and get some certifications that I would have some job that I enjoy and pays a decent wage.

"I'm really excited to get out into the pharmacy and do prescriptions and meet patients — get to know them with their needs."