Decades ago, Tria Jones had a calling to be a nurse but life kept getting in the way.
Her best friend was murdered. Then her husband, Michael Williams, passed away, leaving her with four children to raise. The seesaw economy made it difficult to support her family on her salary as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Moreover, after starting her Nursing classes, she found herself unemployed and combating housing security.
Yet, on April 30, 2020, her 40th birthday, Tria took her final exam in Community College of Philadelphia’s Nursing program. She passed and earned her associate degree. She and her 95 classmates now are studying for the NCLEX, the Nursing licensure exam for registered nurses.
During Tria’s educational journey, a brigade of faculty and staff helped find scholarship money when she fell behind on tuition; provided a stipend for the Nursing textbooks; provided a bus pass so she did not have to miss classes; lifted her spirits when anxiety set in and provided emergency funds at the point college seemed to have become an insurmountable challenge.
“When you have that little doubt on your shoulder, your village, well, they see you, they see all the talent you have, and they say, ‘What are you talking about? I know you. You can do this.’” Tria said. “They lifted the weight off my shoulders. When the stress is off, you can concentrate on doing well in your classes. I could never have done this without them.”
The financial hurdles were higher for Tria who had used up her financial aid during previous stints to become an accountant, a nurse’s aide and a LPN. So the scholarships provided through CCP’s Office of Institutional Advancement proved critical, especially the final one, the Scholarship to the Finish Line, which paid for her last semester.
Tria assembled her village as she met new faculty and reached out for resources. Each new person contributed, even the now retired security guard in the Mint Building whose smile Tria looked forward to seeing each day.
“Tria Jones was one of the most resilient students I have ever had,” says Julie Odell, an associate professor of English said. “Her plate was already full when she started class, but she knew where she was going and how to use every resource CCP offered her to make it happen. She asked for help when she needed it, and she got it. Her belief in herself, her love for her children, and her fierce desire for a better life drove her to success.”
Jeremiah White, Jr., chairman of the CCP Board of Trustees, says formal support networks are needed to increase college completion rates. The College recently established CCP Cares, where students can connect to resources by emailing the College confidentially and asking for help.
“Students need an ecosystem that supports them through daily life challenges by providing food, transportation, textbook stipends, child care and academic intervention that begins the moment that they fall behind in class,” White said during his recent testimony before City Council.
The Octavius Catto Scholarship proposed by the Kenney Administration and the College is designed to expand and deepen the ecosystem of support for CCP's students.
It is difficult, though necessary, for college students to serve as advocates for themselves, Tria says. When Tria was unable to afford her first-year textbooks for the Nursing Program, she walked into the office of the president, Dr Donald Guy Generals, to seek advice.
That is how she learned about KEYS (Keystone Education Yields Success), an initiative that provides men and women receiving public assistance with opportunities that can change their trajectory in life. The program exclusively serves Philadelphians who are receiving either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In the KEYS program, Tria found a ready-made network that was highly skilled at addressing classroom success as well as quality of life issues such as employment, housing insecurity, financial literacy and life skills.
“Oh my gosh. KEYS, they have just been a support in so many ways,” Tria said. “Whether it is receiving a book allowance for textbooks or helping with transportation to school, or just talking when doubts set in. The ladies in that office have really been there for me. Every student should be entitled to these supports. ‘’
KEYS also introduced students to academic mentors, who update them on academic resources and provided a quiet room with WIFI and computers where Tria could do homework and study.
Twenty students in the KEYS program graduated in May 2020; three of them, like Tria, completed the Nursing program. KEYS has had more than 250 of its students graduate; 56 of whom completed the CCP Nursing program, where entry-level salaries start at $59,000 a year.
One of the newest participants in KEYS was Tria’s daughter, Jannat Williams, who enrolled in College full time last fall, after participating in its Gateway to College, an alternative program for local high school students.
“As a nation, we often say we value higher education but we don’t always put the supports in for students to reach the goal line,” Tria said. “KEYS is doing that for me. It makes the college experience complete. Sometimes students like myself feel they can't join or participate because they don’t have the fees. KEYS removes those and so many other barriers.”
Now that she has graduated, Tria plans to continue her education at West Chester University, in the RN-BSN program. She has already started making phone calls, and creating her new village.