High school students on fast track at country's only nursing charter school
Two-hundred and seventy-two Rhode Island high school students with a desire to pursue a nursing career have been lucky enough to take advantage of the country’s only charter high school dedicated to the nursing profession, located right in downtown Providence.
The Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College (RINIMC) is a four-year school that provides a high school diploma and college credits to students committed to a future career in nursing or another area of the health care field. The school was founded in 2011 and is preparing to graduate its first class of 59 students, this year.
Pamela McCue, registered nurse, nurse executive and CEO of RINIMC, said the school is an innovative high school experience to provide a supportive learning environment to provide students with the skills, knowledge and passion to excel in a college nursing program and the nursing profession.
“We know there’s a nursing shortage. We also know the field is evolving,” said McCue. “With the Affordable Care Act, there is going to be an extraordinary need for nurses.”
McCue also said it is known that the nurse of tomorrow will need a different skill set than she did, so reaching those future nurses as early as possible in their education will help ensure their success.
Students enter the school in the 10th grade, will learn basic medical terminology and study skills, and all of their classes have a connection to the medical field. Every subsequent year builds on their medical knowledge.
RINIMC is a four-year program, meaning students are automatically signing on for an extra year of high school, but the 12-plus year as it is known consists of taking only college courses through agreements with Community College of Rhode Island and University of Rhode Island. The students can then use the faculty and staff at RINIMC as resources.
“We give them extra support, extra guidance; our faculty are available,” explained McCue.
The school has a faculty and staff of 23, with secondary-certified teachers and college professors who are certified for both secondary and higher education. McCue also brings in nursing professionals for lectures or classes when she can. “Right in 10th grade, the students feel like they are in college,” explained McCue, adding that the students come from 22 school districts across the state.
The school also feels like a college because the year is divided into two semesters, with a January intersession. During January, younger students may have the opportunity to practice their hands-on patient skills or earn their CPR-certification, while older students have the opportunity to take courses about ethics in the medical field or extended courses on specific diseases such as diabetes.
“These are things you don’t learn in a traditional four-year high school,” said McCue.
Cranston resident Jayson Albuerme says he feels lucky to have learned about RINIMC. He was able to start last year as a senior and will be graduating this coming May in the first class.
The 18-year-old says he always wanted to be in nursing, adding that his mother is a registered nurse.
“I was always around the field,” explained Albuerme, a former Cranston High School East student. “It’s a better future for me.”
Sixteen-year-old Arianna Rei also has a family connection to the field; her father is currently in the nursing program at CCRI. But the Johnston resident has more personal reasons to want to be in the field.
“I’ve always wanted to be in health care since I was diagnosed with a brain disorder,” said Rei.
Rei, who was home-schooled for a while after her diagnosis, said she was glad to have found a school that focuses on the health care field.
“I feel like here, you just do your basics. It’s straight to the point,” said the junior, explaining that she doesn’t have to worry about art or music classes that don’t interest her or help her toward her goal.
Fellow junior and Johnston resident Stephanie St. Louis agrees. “I’d rather just focus on my regular classes,” said St. Louis, who says she has always wanted to be a nurse and hopes to research disorders in the future.
Not only do students at RINIMC get to focus solely on those core subjects, but each class finds a way to connect to nursing and the medical field.
“They put nursing in it,” said Rei, who hopes to work with kids in the future. “They teach you how it’s related.”
“Even if you don’t think it’s related, they tell you how it is,” said Albuerme, who hopes to be a nurse practitioner.
McCue explained that students take science and math classes, as well as English and history, but all of them relate to the medical field. For example, in an English class the students will look at medical and health care materials and a History class would likely discuss the role of nurses in various wars.
When a student begins to take college courses, they are taking what is often considered the prerequisites at any college or university for those looking to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or any other degree related to the medical field.
“You can lessen your load during college, or you can graduate with a BSN in three years,” said McCue.
McCue explained that some students start out wanting to be nurses, but then become interested in physical therapy, pharmacy or another medical field. She said so long as the career path remains in the medical field, her students would still be able to transfer their college credits.
Warwick’s Christian Cordova, a 12-plus student at RINIMC, agrees that the education he experiences is different but he enjoys it.
“I much prefer this to any public school,” said Cordova. He added that the 12-plus year acts as a bridge between high school and college, and is very “special.”
The school also covers the cost of those college credits and the textbooks.
Cordova initially wanted to be a nurse, but is now looking into the pharmacy field; he is applying to University of Rhode Island. Since he has always wanted to be in a medical field, he also understands the advantage that has been handed to him. “People who want to be in the nursing field are desperate to get into the school,” said Cordova.
McCue said an interest in the field is necessary, but so is the desire to move on to a college or university.
“You must be interested in going to college; you must be a serious student,” said McCue.
“It’s very challenging, but I love it,” said St. Louis.
Another challenging aspect is taking the certification exam to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). The students explained that you take the exam as a junior and it consists of a written exam and a series of hands-on skills you must demonstrate. If you get even one wrong, you don’t pass and must take it again the next year.
Albuerme said he would retake the test this year; Rei and St. Louis are preparing to take it for the first time.
“I don’t have a life when I’m in school,” said Rei. “It’s an advantage but it’s hard.”
McCue said the CNA certification not only gives students the experience of taking that test, but it allows them to find summer jobs at hospitals or in other health care facilities after their junior year.
“The CNA is not the goal,” added McCue.
McCue stressed that this school is not a replacement for college, but a college-prep program for those looking to go on to obtain college degrees.
“To be a registered nurse, it’s a four-year degree and then you sit for a licensing exam,” said McCue. She added that all of her students are going on to, or planning to go on to, other programs at colleges or universities. Many are looking at in-state programs at University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College or Salve Regina University, while others are looking out of state; their credits will transfer anywhere.
Since they all know their future lies in the medical field, Albuerme, Rei and St. Louis all understand the advantage they have from attending RINIMC.
“It’s a good thing I went to this school; they treat you like an adult,” said Albuerme, adding that his 12-plus year is taking the place of his first year of college. “It’s more of a community.”
Rei agrees, adding that the teacher ability to work one-on-one with students is a huge advantage.
“The relationship with the teachers, it’s not like a parent but it’s more of an advisor,” she said.
Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College will hold an open house on Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the facility at 150 Washington Street in Providence. Students will be on hand to speak about their experiences as well as faculty and staff.
Applications to attend are being accepted now; students can apply online at www.tomorrowsnurses.org, under admissions.
They will be accepting 80 students for their next class; the Charter School Lottery is set for March 5. There is the possibility of space within the 11th grade as well. McCue explained that the only prerequisite is the successful completion (or expected completion) of ninth grade and the understanding that this is a rigorous program for college-bound students.