Cheree Stringham doesn’t know how to not mother. “People are always saying to me, ‘put your ‘Mom’ away!’” she says with a laugh, half embarrassed and half proud. “I can’t!”
Stringham is mother to a daughter, a granddaughter, and three stepchildren. She’s also an LNA at the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington. “When you walk into [a patient’s] room, when you walk by and they just look sad, when you walk in and make them smile—that is the best pay…Taking care of people is just what I do. I have that gene. I can’t make it go away.”
In addition to parenting and working, Stringham is on her way to becoming an LPN—thanks to that special caring-for-others gene, and also to CCV. “I’m thankful for CCV, because without them, I don’t know that I would be where I am today. They helped me when I was a struggling young parent and then they helped me as a struggling adult student.”
Stringham grew up in Bennington, and dropped out of high school three weeks before graduation. “I kind of was an idiot teenager and didn’t think about my future. I just thought about in the moment, and that didn’t get me anywhere.” She raised her daughter with the help of her mother and stepfather. She eventually earned her GED and became an LNA. In 2007, she started taking classes at CCV-Bennington, but left when juggling work, parenting, and school became too much.
She started working for Bayada Home Health Care, where she was employed off and on for eight years as a home health aide and a caregiver in hospice. In between stints at Bayada, she explored other careers, but kept returning to healthcare. “Everything was great,” she says, “and then I just woke up one [day] and said ‘it’s not enough. I need to do more.’ I am a big advocate for my people, but I felt like as just the LNA, I wasn’t being heard…my theory is the nurses and the doctors don’t have any idea what’s going on if they don’t talk to their LNAs. We know the people because we’re with them every day.”
Stringham came back to CCV in the fall of 2017 with the goal of continuing on to nursing school. “I want to better myself. I have a 2-year old granddaughter and I want to be able to give her what she needs and take her to Disneyland and do all the things I actually couldn’t do for my own daughter. So in order for me to do that I have to better myself. Bettering myself is becoming an LPN.”
Stringham is taking advantage of a popular route to LPN licensure: she earned her prerequisites at CCV and then transferred to Vermont Tech. According to Sarah Billings-Berg, associate dean of nursing for Vermont Tech, roughly three quarters of the school’s nursing graduates begin their education at CCV. In Bennington—and throughout the state—a well established partnership between the two colleges means students have a clear and direct pathway to high-demand nursing credentials.
In Stringham’s experience, the transfer process was seamless. “They’re sister schools, so my credits followed me. All of my credits that needed to go with me to Vermont Tech followed me from CCV. The transition was very easy, and part of that was because there are amazing people that work here and they’re all about your success.”
Darcy Oakes is a coordinator of student advising at CCV-Bennington, and she says the CCV/Vermont Tech pathway is an obvious choice for students. “We have developed such a strong relationship between Vermont Tech and CCV. And students hear about that, and they know about that, and it lends confidence to a situation that otherwise is fraught with anxiety, because of the cost of education, the time commitment, and the risk. And so when we have such a strong relationship we’ve built over time…students feel confident to access that pathway.”
CCV’s wide variety of classes and programs, from individual prerequisite courses to the allied health preparation certificate and the health science associate degree, provide a solid foundation from which students can pursue further education and/or begin working. For its part, Vermont Tech offers a 1+1+2 career ladder, meaning students can earn credentials that help them move up in their careers following each year of school, from the PN certificate to the associate degree to the bachelor’s in nursing. Billings-Berg says that like Stringham, “a lot of [Vermont Tech] students are non-traditional students, so they’re in their second or third career, they have kids who are still in school, they may be a single parent or both parents are having to work two jobs, so it’s really a model that gets them a credential within a year so that they can start working and start earning faster.”
Stringham didn’t consider other colleges when she made her plan to head back to school; she knew she needed something close to home. For students to be able to continue their education in their local community—“that’s everything,” said Oakes.
Now in her second semester at Vermont Tech, Stringham says she’s been thrown into a whole new level of challenge. “The struggle is real…right now I’m just struggling to stay afloat. But it’s worth it. If the struggle isn’t real it’s not gonna be worth it in the end. Nothing that is worth having is easy to acquire.”
Despite the trials of this new semester, Stringham is determined. She says her daughter (who also studied at CCV) is her biggest motivator. “She is my go-to girl for everything. If I’m struggling [with school] that’s who I call. She is my hero, 100%.” And, she knows her hard work will pay off. “I think becoming an LPN will open many doors for me. I can stay in a nursing home, I can go into a doctor’s office. I can go into the hospital, I can travel.”
Stringham is a person who thrives when she’s taking care of others—and also when she’s being taken care of. Which is a big reason for her success during her time at CCV, and since. “It’s like everybody here knows you…The instructors really care, they want you to do better.” She says she felt that support from staff and peers, too. “That’s what I think is most important, is they actually care, they pay attention, they can look at you and say ‘you look like you’re having a bad day, what can I do?’ They genuinely want you to succeed.”