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Mother and daughter journey through Gillette College nursing school together

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Kayla Amos, left, and her daughter Kori graduated from Gillette College as licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, after going through the college’s nursing program with each other. Photo by Jake Goodrick, Gillette News Record.
Cassia Catterall with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — In many ways, Kayla and Kori Amos are entirely different.

They don’t learn the same. Neither has the same morning routine. Their average day begins hours apart and there’s a 20-year age gap between them.

Kayla wakes up at 6 a.m. to make sure her youngest, a senior at Hulett High School, is awake and ready to go. Kori may snooze until 8:45 a.m.

Kori’s week includes time at the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center where she works as a certified nursing assistant. Kayla drives from Carlile, a “blink and you’ll miss it” town north of Moorcroft, into Gillette multiple times a week, nearly 100 miles roundtrip each time.

Kayla is a self-proclaimed extrovert, while Kori is more reserved. And while Kayla learns more by way of textbook or rote memorization, Kori is “industry smart” and applies her hands-on experience from the workplace to her learning.

The mother and daughter took different paths to their final destination in the Gillette College nursing program but have been successful because they also have many similarities.

They both care for people. If asked, they can spew off information about diagnoses and medications they’ve accumulated throughout their time in school. They both have a confident way of speaking, a plan for their future.

And they both mutually respect and love each other.

It’s a love and respect that’s grown over the years, along with pride, as each watches the other achieve the same goal, in unique ways, and as their own individual person.

For Kayla, it’s the pride of watching Kori transition into adulthood and take on skills she’ll use for the rest of her life, like organizing time while she works two separate jobs on top of the school week.

“I really got to see her grow and establish herself into a responsible adult,” the 41-year-old said. “There’s a lot of pride in that. The thing is, you’ve taught them that (as a parent) and given them that information but it’s up to them to use it.

“For me to see her click it all together, everything we’ve taught her over the years and the importance it holds. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve done my job well.’ So for me it’s really rewarding.”

For Kori, it’s a pride in watching her mother come back to the classroom after more than 20 years and excel.

“She just jumped in headfirst,” the 21-year-old said. “A lot has changed from when she was in school versus me being in school. I’ve progressed with the times and she’s gone from one extreme to the other. So it’s very exciting to watch from my perspective because not a lot of people would do what she’s doing and be successful at it.”

On Wednesday, the two sat in the lobby of the college’s health science center shortly after taking their “sink or swim” exam for the year. If they passed, they both moved on to their final year in the program and earned their licensed practical nurse certification at graduation.

If not, it meant repeating some schooling until they passed.

Both passed the test and walked across the graduation stage in the college’s sky blue gowns Friday, two of about 270 recognized in this year’s commencement ceremony for what they’d achieved. But on Wednesday, the difference between pride in themselves and pride for a child showed.

“You know, (mom) was happy today that she passed this test,” Kori said Wednesday. “But she cried when she found out I passed it.”

“That’s the difference,” Kayla said. “It’s one thing to perform well as a student but it’s another thing to perform well as a student and have your child perform well when you’re doing the same thing.”

Separate paths

Kayla and her family owned and operated a motel in Hulett for nine years before she decided to make the switch to nursing. It was the summer of 2022.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Kayla said.

She decided to earn her certified nursing assistant license and then her husband and family encouraged her to continue her education to receive a college degree in the same area.

But first, she wanted to clear the idea with Kori, who had started college courses the year before after graduating high school in 2021.

For Kori, the decision was simple but it took a few tries before Kayla agreed.

“It took a little while to talk her into it,” Kori said with a laugh. “Because I had to make her understand it wouldn’t make me hate her if she were to go to school with me.”

“I didn’t want to ruin her college experience,” Kayla explained.

On top of balancing the parent-child relationship in everyday life, the two then decided on boundaries in the classroom. They wanted their instructors and peers to think of them and respect them both as individuals.

Their first semester in classes together, they didn’t even sit on the same side of the classroom. And it worked. Some in the class didn’t know they were related until halfway through the class.

“From a mom’s perspective, I didn’t want it to be like ‘Oh, the mom’s doing the work,’ or, ‘The daughter’s doing the work,’” Kayla said. “We really wanted to individualize our work.”

Since establishing their own individuality, the two are now more lenient and study together sometimes.

The study sessions bring in both Kayla’s book knowledge and Kori’s street smarts, testing each other in some ways, while also expanding how they approach a given scenario. Since they know each other so well, the two can sense when the other needs that extra push or support to get through.

Nursing school is rigorous and at different times of the year, each leaned on the other.

At the beginning of last week, Kayla “kidnapped” Kori for a few days. She’d seen her daughter’s anxiety increase before the final exam Wednesday and decided it was time to buckle down.

The two spent time quizzing each other with flashcards and taking study breaks where they were simply able to hang out. It was never monotonous, just like their time in the program, and keeps them on their toes.

On Friday, they were able to celebrate the continuing journey of their separate yet similar nursing paths. It was refreshing. Another checkmark was crossed off the list.

And both said they wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

“It’s honestly flown by,” Kayla said. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in school for nearly two years. I’m glad I did it and I don’t have any regrets.”

“I think this happened in the best way possible,” Kori said. “Going to school together. Because then you have someone to lean on who understands where you’re coming from.”

The mindset is another similarity mixed in among the differences and will carry them into the next year as they continue to balance their relationship as mother and daughter, peers, and also, best friends.

This story was published on May 14, 2024.

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