EDINBURG - Region One Education Service Center along with three school districts, South Texas College, and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance announced the receipt of a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund their nursing career pipeline.

The pipeline, called Project Health Education and Leadership for ALL (or Project HEAL2), is a dual enrollment program for students interested in a health professions career to receive their associate degree in nursing when they graduate from high school. At Region One ESC, program partners and students gathered to celebrate the success of the pilot cohort and to welcome the program’s new students.

Representatives for each grant partner spoke about their roles and their hopes for Project HEAL2. Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President of STC, noted the importance of the pipeline for the Valley.

“South Texas College has the responsibility to prepare the workforce of this region, and preparing nurses is one of the highest priorities,” said Dr. Reed. “In our region, we probably need 300 or 400 registered nurses today, and we don’t have them.”

Project HEAL2 hopes to expand and fill the nursing gap with the help of the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant they received. The U.S. Department of Education awards the grant to applicants that demonstrate innovative practices that improve student achievement. The nursing career pipeline did just that with the launch of their pilot cohort two years ago.

Eight students from PSJA ISD formed the pilot cohort. Out of 54 students that applied, 20 were accepted into the program, with only the eight completing it this year. Partnering with South Texas College for their coursework and training at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, they became the first high school students in the country to graduate with their associate degree in nursing.

Dr. Robert Armour Forse, a surgeon at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, emphasized the achievement of these students and the promising future of the program.

“It’s exciting because, where did this grant come from? The Department of Education – the federal level, meaning the feds have picked up and said ‘hey you guys are doing neat stuff down there in the Valley. We want to support you. Keep going,’” Dr. Forse said.

Now, the next cohort will include students from new partner school districts La Joya ISD and South Texas ISD. Dr. Marla M. Guerra, Superintendent of South Texas ISD was encouraged by the collaboration.

“This is the first time you’ve seen major players in the Valley – DHR, South Texas College, Region One, La Joya ISD, PSJA ISD, and South Texas ISD – collaborate on a joint project, and a project that’s going to bring us nurses. And that, ladies and gentleman, is so exciting,” Dr. Guerra said.

With words of praise and caution, the partners reiterated their confidence in the students.

“We have very high expectations. Nursing is perhaps the most challenging and demanding program at the college. It is no-nonsense. It is life and death. And, it is hard, hard work,” said Dr. Reed.