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Nursing-focused charter school sets sights on healthcare education for Harrisburg, county students

Screenshot from the virtual public hearing on Monday

A new charter school is seeking to come to Harrisburg, with a focus on preparing Dauphin County students for the healthcare field.

The Pennsylvania Nurses Middle College Charter School came before the Harrisburg School District on Monday for a virtual public hearing on its application to create a charter high school in Midtown.

According to CEO Betsy Snook, the charter school seeks to create a pipeline for students in grades 9 through 12 to enter the nursing field. She said that they also hope to address the racial disparity in the field by attracting and training minority students.

“The vision for our school is to create this unique, inspired and supportive secondary public school experience where students will attain a quality high school-to-professional nursing/healthcare education,” Snook said.

The school was founded by the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, which Snook also oversees, and the Nursing Foundation of Pennsylvania.

The idea came out of a 2010 “Future of Nursing” report conducted by the Institute of Medicine, which found that only about half of registered nurses have a baccalaureate degree, Snook said. The report set a goal of increasing that number to 80%. It also found that about 90% of registered nurses are white females, and it set goals to diversify the profession.

“None of this got better as the result of the current pandemic,” Snook said. “As a matter of fact, in one study, 60% of nurses said they’re planning to leave their profession as a direct result of the impacts caused by COVID-19.”

Snook said that she hopes the charter school will create a solution to these problems by encouraging students to pursue baccalaureate degrees in nursing.

If approved, the charter school would open for the 2022-23 academic year to all Dauphin County students, who would be chosen by a lottery system. Snook said that the school would seek to enroll 120 9th-grade students for the first year and add additional grades each year.

Classes would be STEM-focused with hands-on curriculum, practicums and summer employment opportunities in local healthcare settings, she explained. The school also would offer first-aid, CPR and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in partnership with HACC.

The school would be located in GreenWorks Development’s Midtown II building, alongside the PA STEAM Academy. The PA STEAM school recently received approval to open by the state Charter Appeal Board after a lengthy back-and-forth with the Harrisburg School District, which opposed the charter school.

GreenWorks Development CEO Doug Neidich said that the 130,000-square-foot building would have space for both schools, which would have separate, secure entrances and classroom space.

Snook said that she anticipates leaving her position as the CEO of the nurses association to focus on her role as CEO of the charter school. At the hearing on Monday, she said that she has no teaching certification or experience leading a school.

She said that she hopes the Harrisburg School District will work with the charter in the interest of students. The district’s school board must approve the new charter before the school can open.

“If we are all going to say that we want to do something innovative and new to ensure that our students succeed, then it becomes incumbent upon us to talk about the barriers we’ve had in the past and eliminate those if possible,” Snook said.

Charter school board members include Latino Hispanic American Center Director Gloria Merrick, former state government employee Peter Speaks and retired Harrisburg School District Human Resources Director Lance Freeman, among others.

The school has received support from the Dauphin County commissioners, the Foundation for Enhancing Communities, HACC, Harrisburg University, UPMC and other organizations.

While this was a school district hearing, district officials did not comment during the meeting. They also could not be reached immediately for separate comment.

The public hearing on the charter school did not conclude on Monday. It will continue on a date that has yet to be determined.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Nurses Middle College Charter School, visit their website.

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