RN Dreams: Student Graduates Early and Gets to Work
Alejandra Belmontes knows how to work. At just 17, she has graduated early from South Milwaukee High School, works as a pharmacy technician, picks up waitress shifts at her godparents’ restaurant, and is enrolled in college to be a registered nurse.
She’s an example of a student who has taken full advantage of South Milwaukee’s Career and Technical Education program. The CTE program is a suite of offerings geared to train students for well-paid careers in industries that desperately need employees. The program gives students the necessary certifications and training to start working right after graduation.
“My freshman year, I knew I wanted to get into the (certified nursing assistant) program,” she said.
She worked with her guidance counselor, George Cleveland, to map out a plan for her goal.
“I doubled up (classes) my sophomore year. By my junior year, I was done with math. That’s when I did my CNA,” Belmontes said. “In my senior year, I was starting college.”
On top of all of that work, Belmontes was also a member of the Poms dance team and worked as a waitress at her godparents’ Mexican restaurant, Buena Vista, in Milwaukee - a gig she’s had since she was 14.
She’s modeling herself after her older sister, Ana, also an SM alum, who is a nurse, but it was actually her younger siblings, a sister, and brother, ages 15 and 5 respectively, who inspired her to her ultimate goal - becoming a neonatal nurse.
“My two younger siblings have cystic fibrosis,” Belmontes said. “(My sister) wasn’t expected to make it past the age of 7.”
Her brother had fewer complications from the disease, a condition that attacks the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. “I took care of him a lot as a newborn,” Belmontes said. “I’ve always had an interest in babies. From being a little girl, I just adored them.”
If admiration and love of her siblings have helped her form her goal, she has a calculating steeliness all of her own that is charting her path.
For example, she was dual-enrolled at MATC working on a licensed practical nurse certification tuition-free - something available to South Milwaukee students - but instead is headed to college after receiving a scholarship to Carroll University because it was a quicker path to becoming a registered nurse – a job that comes with more responsibilities, but also more pay.
“Originally I was looking at (the University of Wisconsin-Madison) but I wanted to challenge myself,” she said.
Carroll, she feels, has a more rigorous program than UWM and a 100-percent passing rate on the National Council for Licensure Exam - a test all hopeful registered nurses have to take.
She credits her parents for the drive she and Ana have. Her father works at ACE Worldwide, her mother stays home with the children. Education is really important to them, Belmontes said.
“Neither of them got to finish high school,” she said. “For us (becoming nurses) - it’s their biggest accomplishment. We’re doing this for them. We’re accomplishing things they couldn’t do.”
While she’s in college she’ll still work at the restaurant – on days she’s not working at Walgreens as a pharmacy technician, a job she’ll become certified in when she turns 18. She started there through South Milwaukee’s Youth Apprenticeship Program. “I need to know about the types of medicine people are taking and the symptoms they’re having,” she said. “Every day I’m learning something new.”