New nursing class prepares high schoolers

HARLINGEN — It started off as a conversation during a breakfast meeting.

Now, 2 1/2 years later, the new licensed vocational nursing class at Valley Baptist Medical Center has opened its doors to its first cohort of high school students.

“It’s the best program they’re offering right now for students as young as we are,” said Jeniah Herrera, 16, who will be a junior this fall at the Harlingen School of Health Professions.

The Harlingen school district was already offering coursework for certified nursing assistants and certified medical assistant, but there was a need for more.

“We wanted to expand our opportunities at our Harlingen School of Health Professions for our students who are interested in the health science professions,” said Raul Alvarez, Director of Career & Technical Education for the Harlingen school district.

“It’s been about two years we’ve been negotiating with Valley Baptist Medical Center,” Alvarez said. “Our board just approved the contract at the last board meeting.”

No other such class exists in the Harlingen area.

Valley Baptist also saw a need for such an innovative program, said Janis Baker, director of the hospital’s vocational nursing program.

“There are so many people that want to attend our program and they can’t afford it,” she said. “By doing it this way, the district is paying for these students so they have the ability to become a vocational nurse and give them one step up. They can then literally apply to a transition program to go from LVN to RN and they only have one year to go.”

Alvarez said about 20 students are in the first cohort, and he expects that many students to start each summer before they begin their junior years.

“From now on, our incoming 11th graders are going to take summer school for the LVN and then in 11th grade they’ll be taking courses related to the LVN,” he said. “Then in the summer between 11th and 12th grades they’re going to take summer courses at Valley Baptist. It’s a big commitment on the part of these students.”

Isaac Newman has been interested in the medical field ever since he began attending HSHP as a freshman.

“It was my dad that introduced me to the LVN program that my school was doing,” said Isaac, 15. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to join because of my interests.”

The course will also give students a way to make a living right out of high school, Alvarez said.

“If they want to continue their education they can do so and they can start working their way up to RN through college,” he said. “Or if they want to go straight into the workforce they can enter it at a higher level than a CNA or CMA. So it’s all about them offering opportunities in our district.”

Jeniah plans to work as an LVN to help put herself through college.

“Helping people has been one of my passions,” she said. “I don’t want to stay at an LVN level. I want to progress. So right now it’s a good stepping stone to get me there.”