Kent ISD — Michelle Koetsier’s co-workers have always been supportive, encouraging her to expand her career options and consider entering the field of nursing.
“They would say to me, and still do, ‘you would make such a great nurse,’ ” Koetsier said.
The holdup? No high-school diploma.
A special education student who attended Kelloggsville Public Schools, Koetsier left high school when faced with the prospect of having to attend beyond her senior year.
Fast-forward a few years, when Koetsier began working for Sunset Senior Communities, which owns a number of residential facilities for older adults including Jenison’s Sunset Manor & Villages. It was through the company that Koetsier earned nursing assistant certification.
“It’s not easy, but if it is something that you really want then you just have to push yourself through.”— Michelle Koetsier
She realized she wanted to go further and made a call to Grand Rapids Community College, but learned her opportunities were limited without a high-school diploma.
So she enrolled in Kent ISD’s adult education program to earn a GED. She attended three days a week at the Leonard campus, and soon more doors started to open.
Like the day Program Navigator Lindy Clayton walked into her class. Clayton had come to talk to students about Kent ISD’s Career and Technical Education programs.
Another Door Opens
CTE programs offer specialized training to students who are on track to get a GED. Students receive hands-on experience and may earn certifications in fields such as phlebotomy, pharmacy assistant, welding, information technology, and construction. Clayton said those who complete the programs leave with skills employers are looking for, especially entry-level positions.
CTE courses are available only to those who are working toward completing a GED; students are required to attend GED courses while enrolled in the program. Most complete coursework within a few months, Clayton said.
Clayton visited Koetsier’s class last fall to talk to students about the CTE phlebotomy class, which focuses on drawing blood.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do,” said Koetsier, who had already achieved much of the training offered by her employer at Sunset. The trick for her was balancing the extra class with her GED classes, work and family.
But Koetsier did not have to look far for support. Co-workers immediately encouraged her, she said, and family members stepped up to help with her children.
She was one of 11 students who graduated this winter from the phlebotomy course. Since the start of the program in the winter of 2019, there have been 77 people who have completed CTE courses.
Depending on requirements, as some fields also require the completion of the GED program before being able to apply, many students have started work in their studied field, especially those in welding, said adult education Director Oogie Lamar.
“Michelle is right on track,” Lamar said during the graduation celebration. Koetsier now is on her way to finishing her GED, he added, and qualified for the Futures for Frontliners program, which will help cover the college costs.
Make the Call
“I just really want it all,” Koetsier said as she held her phlebotomy program certificate. Drawing blood has been added to her work responsibilities at Sunset Manor.
Clayton said Koetsier is representative of many of the students who participated in adult ed programs like CTE, juggling responsibilities while trying to follow paths to better opportunities.
In addition to home, family and school, Clayton said, Koetsier “has also been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential worker, taking care of our population’s most vulnerable.”
Koetsier said it has been a challenge, juggling it all.
“It meant some sacrifices, not being able to hang with my husband or spend as much time with my kids,” she said. “There are also times where you just have to take the time for you and what you are trying to achieve. That means you may need to call in and take a day. It might mean taking a nap, so you can have a special dinner with your kids.
“It’s not easy, but if it is something that you really want then you just have to push yourself through. I know for me the sacrifices are going to be worth it down the road.”
Koetsier plans another four years of balancing school, work and family life as she continues on her path to become a nurse.
“I am glad I told myself not to be stupid, and to make that call to GRCC,” Koetsier said. “It made me more determined to overcome my challenges to reach for that dream of becoming a nurse.”