No one would have expected much from someone who lived through a childhood like Jessica Broadway’s.
Her former school classmates back in Panama City are evidence of that. Few endured as much as Broadway, but many, she said, ended up pregnant, addicted to drugs or both.
But hardship pushed Broadway to achieve. Now the 22-year-old is a UCF student in an innovative College of Nursing program that allows participants to earn their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in nursing more quickly by taking classes for both concurrently.
“I want to be better than what people expect of me,” Broadway said.
In her early childhood, the only examples she had to follow were bad ones. Her parents were high school dropouts and drug addicts. A grandmother overdosed on painkillers. Uncles and cousins were in and out of jail.
Broadway’s mother occasionally took her and moved to Jacksonville to escape an abusive marriage, but always returned. She moved between the school districts in Panama City and Jacksonville.
One day when she was 13, a caseworker from the Florida Department of Children and Families showed up and removed her from the home.
“Both of them [her parents] were doing drugs in the house and [DCF] didn’t feel I was safe,” Broadway said.
That’s when her brother, Josh, stepped in. Josh, who is 10 years older, had made it out of his parents’ chaotic home and wanted his sister to live with him in Jacksonville.
He made a proposal to the caseworker: He and both his parents would take a drug test, and his sister would go home with whomever was clean. Her parents refused. Jessica moved in with her brother, then 23.
When she was 15, her father went to prison for running a meth lab. When she was 16, her mother died from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
Broadway moved in with her brother the same weekend he was getting married. They were the steadying influence she’d never had.
“Seeing my brother get out inspired me and showed me that I didn’t have to stay there,” she said. “My parents never really pushed me. But education was very important to my brother and his wife. They pushed me to get good grades and study hard so I’d be able to get into the college program I wanted.”
There were rough patches during those years, too. As a high school student, Broadway said, she often bristled at her brother taking on a parenting role. She found an empathetic ear in a counselor from a United Way program on the campus of her high school, whom she visited weekly. Even now, Broadway helps promote the United Way program that kept her on track.
When she graduated from high school, she already had a career picked out: nursing. Her sister-in-law, a nurse at UF Health Hospital in Jacksonville, was her inspiration.
“She’s an angel,” Broadway said. “She’s been in my life a really long time. She took a lot of time with me and inspired me.”
Broadway came to UCF as a freshman with help from First Generation Grants designed for students whose parents did not attend college. The state of Florida matches donations to the First Generation Scholarship fund.
In 2013, she was accepted into the Dual Enrollment-Concurrent ASN-BSN program, a partnership between UCF and Seminole State College. (UCF has the same partnership with Valencia College.)
The program allows students to take associate degree-level nursing courses from Seminole State instructors at the same time they take bachelor’s degree-level nursing courses from UCF instructors. Successful students take the NCLEX-RN – the licensure exam to become a registered nurse – and graduate with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. It was established to increase the number of well-prepared nurses and address a nursing shortage.
Broadway, who works as a server at The Cheesecake Factory to help pay her expenses, has two more classes to complete, along with practicum hours working in a hospital. She’s expected to graduate in the spring.