By Kim Jackson | [email protected]
When the Class of 2022 graduated from the Alexandria City High School on Saturday, many of them did so with a plan for their future.
Michelle Andzie-Mensah is a graduating senior who also participated in the Nurse Aide Program, part of the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy. She and 15 other classmates chose and completed the Nurse Aide Pathway, during their junior and senior years.
“I just feel like I have always been thinking about what I want to do in my future, ever since the end of middle school. I have always been the kind of person that thinks ahead,” Andzie-Mensah said. “So, when it came to the point of me trying something out, that I felt I had the most interest in at that moment, I took the step and I took the opportunity. And I feel like it paid out.”
The program works in partnership, offering dual enrollment with George Washington University for high school students.
“The Governor’s Academy is a partnership that we have at Alexandria City High School with the George Washington University, where we have these pathways that we offer students these opportunities to go into these certified programs. This guarantees them admission into the GW,” said Pam Hippolyte-Walter, a health and medical science teacher at Alexandria City High School and a coordinator for the Nurse Aide Program.
“I think it is a wonderful program. Being a registered nurse myself, I wish I had had that opportunity, going into high school,” Hippolyte-Walter said of the program, which allows students the chance to earn up to 12 credit hours for nursing school.
“We have got a dual enrollment person that actually works [along] with the students and they also have a high school counselor. So, the idea is they are taking the classes they need to graduate and a lot of the classes they are taking through the academy are elective courses,” Hippolyte-Walter said.
A large part of the program requires students to complete 50 hours of clinical work. Hippolyte-Walter said that work is done outside of school and with Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Alexandria.
“With nursing homes, it’s like you are completely caring for someone, all around. It is not only feeding and making sure they are well dressed but it is also bathing them and just cleaning them up and things like that,” Andzie-Mensah said. “So, I feel like a lot of the things that surprised me there, how hands-on it was, I surprised myself. I didn’t think that I could do these things but I feel like the program helped me really mature and see these people and really feel for them, so it really improved my care.”
She admits the clinical work required prioritizing life and activities.
“A lot of the clinical rotations we had to do were eight-hour shifts or on the weekends. So, it took weekends. It took waking up very early. But I feel like balancing it wasn’t the hardest part. It is more of, if you really want to do it, you will find ways to succeed in that,” Andzie-Mensah said.
Woodbine Administrator Donna Shaw said she and her staff are proud of the C.N.A. graduates, and they believe the skills ACHS students have learned will open career possibilities for them.
“There is so much opportunity in the healthcare field and as a nurse myself, it thrills me to see these young women and men enter the field. Being a part of our local community means so much to me. We have been the clinical site for Alexandria High School for over 25 years and have seen so many of our local students go so far in their careers in healthcare,” Shaw, an RN, BSN and LNHA, said.
Joshua Walugembe said he was one of only two male students in the Nurse Aide Program. He said he came to the United States in 2019 with his family from Uganda.
“It was a great experience because the country I am from, like to get such an opportunity is, you can get it around the age of 25,” Walugembe said.
“Recently I took the written state board exams for nurse aide. So, I did pass it, so I am just waiting on taking the skills and if I do pass the skills, I will become a CNA, officially with a license. After that, I would like to take further studies and become an RN or a physician,” Walugembe said.
So far, of this year’s graduating class, nine students, including Andzie-Mensah and Walumgembe, have taken and passed the written exam and are waiting to take the practical part of the exam, according to Hippolyte-Walter. Others have registered but have not yet tested.
The Governor’s Academy also offers other areas of studies for students who choose them.
“In our high school, we have the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy and through our academy we have got the Nurse Aide program, we have Sports Medicine. We have an EMT program, we have a lab program. We were supposed to have a pharmacy program but that has not quite worked out in our favor as of yet,” Hippolyte-Walter said.
The Nurse Aide program has had up to 25 participants, according to Hippolyte-Walter. And because of the popularity, she expects the program to grow and expand with plans at the Minnie Howard campus.
“So, we are supposed to be getting a new campus with EMT getting their own bay, a bay area, where an ambulance can actually pull into, so students can actually see and feel like they are actually working with an emergency department or with a fire department. The nursing part, we are getting a brand new lab, where we can actually have two to three nursing stations, with patient rooms so we can actually feel more or give the students the feeling more, like they are actually in a health facility,” Hippolyte-Walter explained.
The nursing program is not new, as Woodbine Director of Nursing Florence Debra was a 1991 graduate of T.C. Williams High School who completed a precursor to the current program, and became an LPN, or licensed practical nurse.
“Being a product myself from Alexandria high school formerly called T.C. Williams high school I can only attest to how excellent the Alexandria High School Nursing program is. They have highly qualified clinical instructors who push you to excel in all areas,” Debra said.
While the students are gaining clinical and work experience, the program is promoting interest in the nursing field, which is facing a growing shortage of nurses.
Joshua Walugembe is planning to work as a certified nurse aide as soon as he can, and will be starting college in the spring semester of 2023.
Andzie-Mensah plans to attend college in the fall but is not sure if she will work or focus solely on her studies.
“Currently I am planning on attending a four-year college and I will be majoring in nursing. I plan on getting my bachelor’s of science and nursing and then after that I would get some experience for a couple of years and then try to become a nurse practitioner,” she said.
A two-year commitment in the program promises college credit and career focus for high school students.
“Overall, I think it was a great experience. I learned a lot. I saw a lot. I got to mess up and fix things and improve. It was a great learning experience,” Andzie-Mensah said.