West Virginia School Introduces Free Nursing Courses for High School Students

A new charter school in West Virginia offers students the chance to begin a nursing degree while still in high school, saving them thousands of dollars in college tuition. Win Academy, the state’s first charter school located within a community college, is an accelerated program that allows juniors and seniors to complete the first year of a registered nurse program while earning their high school credits. The program is free for students who take college courses.

Two 16-year-olds, Abby Frame and Abby Persinger, made the decision to join the academy and forgo their senior year at Herbert Hoover High School. They both have aspirations to become nurses.

“I really looked forward to being able to cut time off of my college experience,” said Frame. She and Persinger will finish high school a year early and complete their registered nursing (RN) degrees by the age of 18. According to a national salary tracker, an RN starting out makes around $67,000 in West Virginia.

The girls admitted that the decision to transfer to the charter school was emotional but worth it. “We just had to put our future first,” said Persinger.

Amid declining college enrollment rates nationwide, states are introducing dual-enrollment programs to high school students in an effort to reverse the trend. Many states cover the cost of college tuition for high schoolers, which is an appealing option for families looking to avoid student loan debt. BridgeValley Community and Technical College has seen a strong response to its nursing-track program and plans to expand with a manufacturing-focused program in 2024.

The president of BridgeValley Community and Technical College, Casey Sacks, said that programs like Win Academy are crucial in helping young adults avoid a “lost decade.” Many typical BridgeValley students find the college later in life after years of low-paying jobs. West Virginia has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

Win Academy is a charter school that provides an accelerated nursing program for high school juniors and seniors. The program is housed at BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston, W.Va. (Amelia Ferrell Knisely/West Virginia Watch)

Nursing charter school not limited to local students

In 2021, state lawmakers approved charter schools as part of an effort to expand school choice in West Virginia. The state now has five charter schools, including Win Academy. Sacks believes that the charter school model aligns well with her vision of improving college access and career exposure for high school students. Win Academy is open to any student who wants to pursue a healthcare career.

With an existing nursing program and a shortage of healthcare professionals in the region, Win Academy at BridgeValley Community and Technical College was a natural fit. The program is not limited to students in Kanawha County, but transportation is not provided. State funds and grant money are used to provide supportive services for up to 60 students, including gas gift cards and books.

Eligible students are allowed to participate in team sports at public high schools, according to state charter school rules. In addition to nursing coursework, students also take any necessary credits for high school graduation on campus, such as math or history courses.

Sacks emphasized that the courses at Win Academy are challenging. However, she also mentioned that the students enrolled in the program are generally more motivated. The program aims to be accessible to all students, including those experiencing homelessness.

After high school graduation, Win Academy students are automatically enrolled in the second-year nursing program at BridgeValley, where they can complete their RN degree. Students can also choose to transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Charter school will expand to include manufacturing

In addition to its nursing program, BridgeValley Community and Technical College will expand its charter school offerings to include a manufacturing-focused program. This expansion comes as a response to a regional workforce shortage in the manufacturing industry. The program is authorized to admit up to 120 high school students and plans to launch in the 2024-25 school year. Graduates of the program can expect local manufacturing jobs to pay around $80,000.

Next spring, BridgeValley will hold a graduation ceremony for its inaugural Win Academy students. Despite the challenges and stress that come with the program, students like Frame and Persinger believe it is worth it. They have their sights set on a bright future in healthcare.

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