[Photo: The first cohort of Nurse Aide I students at Hoke High School include (left to right) Olivia Wallace, Veronica Cunningham, Leydi Hernandez, Aniyah Shaw, Aziza Matos, McKinley Lowery and Baylee White. (Submitted photo)]
By Catharin Shepard • Editor • February is Career and Technical Education Month, and we’re sharing some of the stories of just a few of the many students who have found success in pursuing CTE programs at Hoke County High School. This week we take a look at two seniors at Hoke County High School who joined the first Nurse Aide I cohort. They are taking their big exam this weekend along with their five other classmates to move forward in their careers, even before graduating from high school. They’re the future of healthcare, and CTE helped them prepare for the challenges and rewards yet to come.
Hoke County High School seniors Baylee White and McKinley Lowery both knew early on in life that they wanted to go into the healthcare profession, though their inspiration to do so came from different places.
Lowery was born and raised in Hoke County. She is the daughter of Jennifer Lowery, a staff member at Sandhills Pediatrics. She grew up hanging out with her mother at the medical practice.
“I was known as a Sandhills Pedes baby. I was there every single day,” she said. “Growing up seeing nurses and doctors do what they love kind of showed me what I want to do in the future. So when I was a freshman and heard about the CTE program, it really kind of hooked my mind. This is what I want to do, this is what I’m passionate about.”
White’s family moved to the area when she was young, when her father was stationed at Fort Bragg. Her introduction into healthcare happened when she suffered a snowboarding accident that led to her having surgery to reconstruct one of her shoulders.
“All those doctor’s appointments, all those CT scans, all of that stuff showed me that this was what I wanted to do,” White said. “Talking to the doctors, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t learning. Orthopedics is what I want to do. So I used this (CTE) to cement this in my life, but also so I could have a job and a background in the medical field.”
Lowery and White had been friends for years before high school, and reconnected when they joined the first Nurse Aide I cohort in the Hoke High Career and Technical Education program. Now seniors preparing to graduate in June, they’re also just days away from taking the exam that will earn them their certification in Nurse Aide I.
Taking advantage of the healthcare courses in the CTE program at Hoke High made sense for both of the young women.
“The classes were fun, the teachers were amazing. I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I’m at now if it wasn’t for my teachers,” White said. “It really set in stone – they helped push me towards this goal because they knew that’s what I wanted.”
The first day was a little scary, but they learned to love it and even figured out a way to work together to help each other and their fellow classmates. The two students praised the supportive efforts of their instructors during the course.
“It is a scary thing, but our teachers, they really make a difference,” Lowery said. “Having that teacher that backs you 100 percent, like, you may not believe you can do this, but I absolutely know that you can.”
Clinicals ended up being the two students’ favorite part of the course, even though there was some whiplash involved.
“The hardest part of it is going from 8:30 a.m. you’re a CNA and you’re doing all the stuff that they do, and then at 11:50 a.m. you’re transitioning back to life as a high schooler,” Lowery said. “…Being there and seeing the difference you can make is so rewarding.”
The two students said they would encourage middle school students, and the families of younger children to consider where their interests are and prepare for the future early on. It’s easier to come in as a freshman knowing what sort of direction they want to take, they both said.
“You don’t have to know what you want to do but you kind of have to have a feel for it. There’s so many different programs,” Lowery said. She also had an interest in cosmetology before deciding to pursue healthcare, she noted.
It’s helpful to know beforehand and to focus right from the start because it will end up making senior year much easier, White said.
“The school has so many opportunities for kids. I really do encourage those in middle school, the parents of kids in elementary school to really look into it, figure out what they might have an interest in, and try it out here instead of trying it out once you’re outside of college and you have to make that decision. You have four years to do it here,” she said.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Lowery added.
And, CTE programs are offered without cost – while providing training that can lead to students earning a certification that can get them a job right out of high school, or prepare them for further education. A number of programs in the CTE department are in partnership with Sandhills Community College. The Nurse Aide I is one of those programs, and offers both college and high school credits.
Jason Levister, director of workforce continuing education with the Career and College Promise Program, said he’s proud of the students’ accomplishments.
“Listening to them, this is just a perfect example of our partnership between Hoke County Schools and Sandhills Community College,” he said. “Through the Career and College Promise Program, it’s just absolutely impacting lives every day.”
Thanks to their hard work in their CTE programs, Lowery and White have many options for their futures as they prepare to graduate.
Lowery is currently deciding whether to attend Western Carolina University or UNC-Pembroke for college. She plans to go into the nursing field. Besides Nurse Aide I, she also took multiple other CTE classes in healthcare.
White plans to attend Western Carolina University where she will major in biology, before going on to attend medical school. Her goal is to go into orthopedic medicine.
Both students will be able to use their CTE training to work during college, if they choose to do so. Cape Fear Valley has already offered all of the Nurse Aide I cohort jobs after they pass their exam, CTE Director Dr. Dana Chavis said.
“These girls just have me teared up just to hear them, because we’re changing their lives. And not just theirs but many students here at Hoke High. We’re life changers, and to hear these two…and they’re just two, but so many more that have grasped this opportunity and are moving forward, and are very appreciative of what’s been laid before them,” she said. “It’s a buffet of different opportunities, and you get to pick and choose which ones you want.”
Any student in Hoke County Schools interested in pursuing CTE can speak with their teachers and guidance counselor about the different options and pathways.