My name is Meagan Jones and I am currently a 24-year-old, labor and delivery and NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse, and quite frankly, I am living my dream. Telling this story, I honestly don’t know where to begin, but I do know this one thing – to OCPS Career and Technical Education, Ms. Kristal Armstrong, and many others, I owe a huge thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
My drive and determination for excellence began from childhood. I am the middle child of a single mom (who also has been an OCPS employee for the last 23 years). I watched my mom, day in and day out, strive to be better than she was the day before. She always provided what we needed and most of what we wanted. Although life wasn’t the easiest for us, she made sure to instill in us a strong will and the desire to never quit.
I attended Pinewood Elementary as a magnet student and completed K-5 as an honor student. When I began middle school, at Lakeview, my mom started making the necessary provisions to keep us “ahead” of our peers. My sisters and I were urged to complete some of our high school courses (Spanish, Algebra I, etc.) online. At the time, I thought my mother was just being mean, but little did I know, she was setting us up for something bigger and better.
I wanted to attend West Orange High School and be with my friends from middle school but, because my mom was working at Freedom High School, that was where I would attend high school. I was devastated. In hopes that my mom would move me to West Orange, I started to have repetitive, minor, conduct and behavioral infractions. Little did I know, the transition to Freedom would be my “blessing in disguise”. That is where I met Ms. Kristal Armstrong, who became not only a mentor but my saving grace. She believed in me and invested in me. She helped build my confidence and opened my mind to all the possibilities and opportunities that were available if I cleaned up my act… so, I did.
Throughout high school, the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question surfaced and resurfaced, frequently. I went through an array of careers in my head. As a sophomore, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I was able to begin gaining certifications towards my 40 hours for DCF (Department of Children and Families) licensure through the early childhood education program that was offered at Freedom. As happy as that made me, I wasn’t sure that I would be satisfied in education for the long term. That is when I also began taking classes at Valencia College to complete some of my college credits.
I soon learned about the dual enrollment cosmetology program offered at the Orange Technical College – Westside Campus. So, beginning my junior year, I went to Westside in the morning, came back to Freedom for the early education class, and left to complete my Valencia (core) courses in the afternoon. Cosmetology was fun. I learned quite a bit and my love for fashion and style will always be near to my heart. I still style hair for friends and was even able to make a little money as an undergrad, but again I knew that long-term cosmetology wouldn’t be a satisfying career for me.
While in the cosmetology program, I learned of the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program offered at the Orange Technical College – Orlando Campus. I knew that competition for the program was high, but I was encouraged and decided to apply. Among the many applicants, I was chosen and ecstatic.
During my senior year in high school, I was 17 years old and beginning a program that would allow me to gain experience and work with patients in different areas of nursing. Everything about this program just felt right. It sparked something in me that I didn’t even know was there. I knew that this was where I belonged and what I wanted to do. That nursing program showed me that even through adversity I could succeed. Although this program was tough, I excelled. I felt like I fit. I had finally found the job, the career, the purpose that felt right for me. I graduated from the nursing program with honors in May 2013, two weeks before my high school graduation, and knew that this was only the beginning, I had to keep going.
Fortunately, completing this program allowed me (at only 18 years old) to be the youngest employee in the office of a prestigious OB/Women’s Care Office in Orlando. I worked there, as the Unit Secretary and Birth Assistant, helping deliver healthy baby boys and girls with many midwives. I was also able to serve the community by providing access to basic healthcare needs to many low-income families all around Orlando.
The following fall semester, I was accepted into my dream school at Florida A&M University (FAMU), where I jumped at the opportunity to attend the best (and the first) baccalaureate nursing program in the state of Florida. Being that I had already attained many of my undergrad core credits while dual-enrolled in high school, I was accepted early into their prestigious nursing program and in December 2017, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). I am currently back in school at FAMU where I am working to obtain my Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become a nurse practitioner.
Being 14, 15 or even 16 years old, I had no idea that this is where I would end up. I had no idea that dual enrollment, career and technical education, or any of these programs would put me here. I do know that being raised by a single mom, without these programs in place, I would have NEVER had the financial opportunities to afford these programs. I do know that these programs allowed me to experience real-world careers, answer all my what-if questions, and put me in a position to win. I do know that having all of this in my background, and on my resume placed me a step ahead of my competition, and awarded me my dream job. I also know that if it weren’t for people like Ms. Kristal Armstrong, mentoring me, and telling me to clean up my act, I wouldn’t be here.
I owe Orange County Public Schools a huge thank you for my start. I was never allowed to settle, never allowed to quit, and when the going got tough, I knew that I had teachers, family, and friends that pushed me to keep going.