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December 8, 2020

The AO-K Healthcare Pathway program helps students transition into a career.

Tammy Wiemers made a life-changing decision to return to school and earn her Kansas high school diploma by passing the General Educational Development (GED®) test. Within four years she proved to herself and everyone who met her that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. A new healthcare career was within reach!

Starting a New Career Is AO-K

Tammy knew it was time for a change. She had spent most of her adult life working as a full-time truck driver when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Knowing that she wanted to work toward another career, but unsure which direction to take, she began with earning her high school diploma.

After starting classes with Johnson County Adult Education (JCAE) at JCCC, she learned about the Accelerating Opportunity: Kansas (AO-K) program. The program uses a unique framework to teach career and technical education at the same time as adult basic skills instruction. Students like Tammy complete short-term certificate programs while completing their high school diploma.

Tammy looked into the AO-K Healthcare Pathway, and JCCC’s Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) programs immediately appealed to her. She began CNA coursework while studying for GED tests.

“I knew becoming an LPN would be life-changing and I wanted to help others,” she said.

Returning to school and balancing two programs was tough at times, but Tammy persevered. She received her high school diploma and joined her family and friends at the graduation ceremony.

“It took a lot of hard work to study for my GED tests,” she said. “I got so much help from the volunteers. They are some wonderful people who have impacted my life since I started this journey.” Tammy also took Bridge classes to improve her math and reading skills.

Field of Dreams

Earning a CNA license has given Tammy options. She works at Hoeger House Rehabilitation Center, Cedar Lake Assisted Living and Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home, all in Olathe.

“I learn something new during every shift,” she said. “I especially like working at Hoeger House because I get to see people as they are rehabilitated and get to encourage them along the way, just as others have encouraged me.”

Once she had earned her high school diploma and CNA license, it was time to pursue her next goal: JCCC’s Practical Nursing program. Tammy used the resources JCCC offers to help her do well in the program’s prerequisite courses.

“I completed the Learning Strategies and Exam Strategies classes,” she said. “I loved these classes and think that everyone should take them to help excel in college courses. The classes taught me how to review, prepare for and relax before taking an exam. I also learned how to properly read a textbook and take notes using the Cornell Notes method.”

Over time, Tammy found endless support in the Academic Achievement Center. She used one-on-one tutoring to help review grammar, spelling and test prep. She also had course-specific tutors. If there was a resource, Tammy was on it. She was driven to be the best student she could be.

Evidence for her success is Tammy’s overall 3.9 GPA and being listed on JCCC’s honor roll.

‘Outstanding’ Student

Tammy consistently impressed her colleagues and friends with her dedication and desire to encourage others.

“Not only does Tammy use all the resources available to her to be successful, she also wants others to succeed,” said Leslie Dykstra, JCAE Program Coordinator. “Each semester, she returns to GED classes and motivates other students by sharing her story. One student said they were contemplating quitting the GED program but remembered Tammy’s story and knew that if she could do it, they could, too.”

Leslie recognized Tammy by nominating her for the 2020 Outstanding Adult Learner through the Kansas Adult Education Association (KAEA).

When Tammy found out she had won the statewide award, she knew immediately whom to thank for the recognition.

“I would like to say a big thank you to all of the volunteers and staff at JCAE,” she said. “They believe in me and help me believe in myself. I also couldn’t have done this without my boyfriend, Lew. He’s been my rock and supported me throughout my entire journey.”

Making the Cut

Tammy was accepted into the 2020-2021 full-time PN program. All JCCC nursing programs are selective admissions and competitive. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the program’s limit was 18 instead of the usual 35 students, making Tammy’s accomplishment all the more special.

“I have always dreamed of helping others and now I will be able to help even more in my career,” she said. “There have been many times that I think I am going to give up but thanks to my family, I keep pushing. When I talk to my 9-year-old granddaughter, she reminds me how far I’ve come. She tells me that I have to keep going and get my LPN. She’s right.”