From nurturing newborn calves on her family's farm to professional nursing, at 17 Fletcher’s Lydia Tinker has accomplished far more than most students her age, and she doesn’t plan on slowing down.
Tinker started her academic career at Fletcher Elementary School as a 3-year-old preschool student and graduated sixth grade nine years later. After four years at BFA Fairfax, she transferred to the allied health program at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park.
Having graduated from that program with honors last year, she formally remains a student at Lamoille Union High School, but participates off campus in the Community College of Vermont’s Early College Program.
During the allied health program at Green Mountain Tech, Tinker contributed 172 hours of community service, mostly supporting the elderly, but also completed 80 clinical hours at Copley Hospital and nearby nursing homes as part of the requirements to become a licensed nursing assistant. She also took French, just for good measure.
“The classes weren’t always easy and still aren’t,” Tinker said of courses such as human biology, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology and bioethics. “And sometimes driving to St. Albans in the winter for late classes is hard.”
Tinker is already a nationally certified first responder, licensed nursing assistant, and licensed personal care attendant, though she cannot practice as a personal care attendant until she turns 18 in April.
Last November, she landed a nursing assistant job at Copley Hospital, where, between taking four college classes, she often works 12-hour shifts supporting the needs of a variety of patients.
“I like to help people and see them get better,” Tinker said of her motivation to enter the nursing profession. “I got really, really sick when I was in second grade and spent a week in the hospital and then several weeks at home. That’s when I decided to be a nurse. The nurses were always there for me and right then and there I knew that I wanted to be there for other people who needed my help.”
The work isn’t always easy. In addition to spending long shifts in the fast-paced health care profession, Tinker is exposed to challenging work situations.
“Taking care of someone who is passing is very hard,” she said. “But I like being there for them.”
She credits her sixth-grade teacher with helping her make up the learning she missed while she was ill.
“I remember being in a class of eight boys and me,” Tinker chuckled. “That taught me to stand up for myself. I struggled with math and reading but Mr. Sweet stayed after school to help me.”
Tinker had another built-in support at the school. Her grandmother, Sharon Tinker, has been the administrative assistant there for many years.
“One day I got in trouble and my punishment was to sit with my grandma all day,” she laughed. “That really wasn’t much of a punishment, if you ask me.”
Tinker has always lived in Fletcher. Her father, Jason, works on the family farm and her mother, Jennifer, is a hairstylist.
“Definitely, the farm work makes you have a really strong work ethic,” Tinker said of helping out with all aspects of farm life. “I can go and do nursing for 12 hours and still be fine. Farming definitely teaches you to be dependable.”
Tinker is also certified in youth mental health first aid, trained to recognize the warning signs of adolescents at risk of committing suicide, abusing drugs, or participating in other risky behaviors.
A current dean’s list student at Community College of Vermont, Tinker was admitted to the National Honor Society in high school, the National Technical Honor Society while she attended Green Mountain Tech, and is a current member of CCV’s honor society, Phi Theta Kappa. She received the Committed Learner Award from her allied health program and, upon graduation from that program, she was awarded the $500 Martha A. Schwarz Memorial Scholarship. The award is presented to a highly successful student who is pursuing a postsecondary degree in nursing.
As for advice for today’s students, Tinker suggests, “Try to stay on the straight and narrow, especially online. Everybody is on social media today. One wrong post can cost you a job or entry into a school. Kids don’t stop to think about that in time, sometimes.”
Tinker will attend Vermont Technical College’s nursing program in the fall, and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing and licensure as a registered nurse. She has already received a college scholarship because of her academic success.
“In five years, I will be done with college and working as an RN in labor and delivery,” Tinker said with a confident smile. “If somebody tells you no, there’s always a different way. I just say, ‘watch me.’”
Tinker will graduate from Lamoille Union High School in June. She will have accumulated 38 college credits towards her nursing degree.
Chris Dodge is the principal of Fletcher Elementary School.