ABOVE PHOTO: Tria Jones
By Andrea Lawful Sanders
Tria Jones is a mother of four children, a widow whose husband passed away eight years ago, and a determined woman who just showed the Community College of Philadelphia what was possible when you dare to dream — all wrapped up in one inspiring person.
Jones recently graduated from CCP with support from the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) program, and the earnestness she shows as she talks about what it took for her to reach the momentous milestone of becoming a registered nurse, her excitement is palpable. It leaves one teary eyed and smiling all at once.
She took and passed her final exams on her birthday, April 30, which was a gift in a variety of ways. She is scheduled to graduate on May 8.
“Getting into college was a dream, one that I thought no longer existed because I had used up all my financial aid pursuing a career in accounting,” Jones said. “I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse, and so I decided to go back to school, where I landed at CCP.”
That was just the beginning of an arduous two-year journey for Jones and her family. With no husband to help support her, she decided that she was going to have to do this with fierce determination and a willingness to ask for help. Once she passed her prerequisites, she joined the KEYS program, where she met program director Helena Pizarro and the fantastic team who are the beacon of possibilities for students like her, who only needed support and guidance to succeed.
KEYS provides CCP students that are receiving either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding with a personalized education experience, as well as opportunities for employment, career exploration and enrichment. Each semester, KEYS hosts activities and workshops that link students with viable resources for success, including workshops on topics like financial literacy, home buying and life skills.
KEYS, for example, has collaborated with CityLife Health, who operate several community health centers in Philadelphia, to help students obtain access to needed resources such as housing, clothing and food items. The connection to these centers enable students to focus more on their schoolwork and meet their academic goals.
KEYS also introduces students to academic mentors, who inform them about campus academic resources and provide support outside of the classroom. The additional assistance contributes to boosting not only the content mastery of the students, but also their confidence during midterm and final exams.
The hard work and dedication of the students, combined with the diligence of the academic mentors, began to show once the midterm grades were published for KEYS students. In May 2019, 20 students graduated, with five receiving high honors. Twenty additional KEYS students are on track to graduate in 2020; four of these are on track to complete the nursing program.
In total, the KEYS program has produced 250 graduates, 56 who have completed the CCP nursing program. Entry-level salaries for nursing school graduates top $59,000 a year.
Another 39 of the KEYS graduates majored in allied health, which includes careers like dental hygiene and diagnostic medical imaging.
Jones believes wholeheartedly that the KEYS program was her ticket to success.
“The team walked me through so many things,” she said. “They covered the cost of my books, helped me to find resources [both] in and out of school, and were even there when I wanted to give up — which were many times.”
Pizzaro beamed like a proud parent as she listened to Jones, and concurred that being in school is not an easy thing for families who face a myriad of challenges, but her team was there and fully invested in the success of every student who came to their office. She is perfect in this role, as an educator who knows that having the right team in place is the first step. Pizzaro is also cognizant of when to push or pull, depending on the student needs. Together they do everything in their power to produce the kinds of successes we see in people like Jones, who is brilliant and was given the tools to stay the course.
“Planning prevents poor performance, tap into resources and staff make it known what you may need, and rely upon your peers. My dad used to say that closed mouths don’t get fed, and so I took one step at a time, one day at a time,” Jones responded when asked what her key tools for success were.
The year 2020 is the year of the nurse and the midwife, as designated by the World Health Organization. Jones calls herself the “nursing gangsta” because she lives near 52nd and Market and wants little girls to see her going to work and back in her scrubs while she offers the neighborhood any advice she has on staying safe during the pandemic.
Jones says she had to stop honing in on her false sense of security to take advantage of everything CCP had to offer her. The last step of her journey is taking the NECLEX exam, which will give her the credentials required to walk into any hospital, doctor’s office or long-term care facility she chooses.
Tria Jones is humility, grace, and fire wrapped up in one resilient ball of success!
Her story is a lesson to all about falling down, but finding the energy to get back up and do whatever your mind tells you to — because, as Tria so eloquently put it, “mindset, is everything.”