Last Friday, a public charter school in rural West Virginia graduated its first-ever class of high school seniors. For some of the newly-minted graduates of WIN Academy, their college graduation is only one year away. 

This new charter school has students earn a year’s worth of college credits toward a nursing degree while completing the requirements for their high school diplomas. The new alumni are now only two semesters away from an associate’s degree in nursing, which will allow them to start their careers in less time and at less expense than they would through a traditional pathway. 

The WIN Academy model, created by BridgeValley Community and Technical College president Dr. Casey Sacks, was designed to help meet the needs of students and the communities they will go on to serve. The country needs more nurses; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce forecasts there will be 193,100 job openings for registered nurses every year between 2022 and 2032. But only 177,400 people will join the nursing workforce over those same ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In West Virginia, the need for nurses is especially acute. And to stave off a workforce crisis, a systemic change must make the profession more accessible than it is now. 

WIN Academy graduates say they are thankful for the opportunity to fast-track their path to a college degree. Allyson Randolph, class of 2024, said, “I feel like I just got that jump-start” by choosing to attend WIN Academy rather than her government-assigned high school for her senior year. 

Though transferring schools meant leaving her friends and the typical high school traditions, Randolph says her decision helped her hone in on what future career she wants. “I always knew I wanted to go into the medical field,” she said, “I just didn’t know what part of the medical field.” 

Kaden Thaxton graduated with Randolph last weekend. He said, “You’re given all the resources to excel” in the unique educational model, including resources other schools do not provide. Among the most meaningful opportunities for Thaxton were clinicals, which are day-long shadowing experiences in the medical field. Thaxton participated in clinicals at a day care, a nursing home, and a hospital. In the fall, Kaden will continue working towards an associate’s degree at BridgeValley.

Graduates of the high school are admitted automatically to BridgeValley, where they can complete their associate’s degree in nursing in one year or work toward transferring to a four-year college. (Someone can become a Registered Nurse with an associate’s degree, though a bachelor’s degree opens up more opportunities for leadership and career advancement.)

Dr. Sacks sees the potential for this educational model to extend into other industries. In the fall, she’ll launch WIN Academy Advanced Manufacturing, which replicates the same concept to prepare students for a different in-demand industry. 

Disclaimer: The author of this piece worked with WIN Academy founder Dr. Casey Sacks at the U.S. Department of Education and works with Dr. Sacks to spread awareness of BridgeValley Community and Technical College and WIN Academy.