Every day, senior elementary and special education major Kerry Palmer, wakes up early to make the 1.5-hour commute to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from Wisconsin Dells. She goes to class, education practicum and work. After the school day, she heads home to hang out and take care of her four children.
Being a student and a parent has its benefits and challanges, which UWSP addresses.
For example, attending school and being a parent at the same time adds a new level of stress to everyday life.
“All I can say is that it can be challenging. I think the biggest struggle is to maintain balance,” said Stacy Lavongsa, a senior English education major and mother of four.
Palmer agreed that balance was a challenge to returning to school, but the advantage of being a parent is that she has already learned how to balance life.
“You just go. Most parents would say that’s how they do their lives,” Palmer said. “I’ve set a goal for myself to finish college, so I just do it. You just make it happen.”
Thomas Houting, a senior communications major and father of a two-year-old son, echoed Lavongsa and Palmer’s thoughts. Due to scheduling restrictions, he’s unable to participate in extracurricular activities that would help build his resume.
“You need to spend as much time with your child as you can,” Houting said.
For Palmer, although scheduling is an issue, it isn’t the biggest challenge. “My kids have been my life. That’s not the change for me. It’s going back to school after 18 years.”
Going back to school and having a family can be a lot to handle at once.
“I’ve seen first-hand how many students with children struggle financially to pay for child care when they are trying to be focused on their education and not able to work as much as they would to make ends meet,” said Becky Helf, the director of UWSP’s Helen R. Godfrey University Child Learning Center.
About 55% of the children that go to the learning center, located in Delzell Hall, are children of students that go to the university. The program is supported by UWSP Student Government Organization through segregated fees, which allows for student’s rates to be lower.
The program at the center is the only nationally accredited program in the Stevens Point area by the National Association of the Education of Young Children of having a highly educated staff.
“The staff at the center do a fantastic job educating these young children and making the most of what they have,” Helf said.
However, because of this, the cost is higher.
“Even with the support from SGA, UWSP child-care rates for student parents are still one of the highest in relation to other UW campuses of similar size,” Helf said.
The program is also the only one in the UW System that is still housed in an old residence hall building.
“They [the children] question why they can’t go outside to play because they are unable to see out any window to know if it’s raining,” Helf said. “Two toilets are shared by approximately 35 children. Strictly speaking about the facility, it is beyond unacceptable!”
Although there are hardships involved with being a student and a parent at the same time, the benefits override the stress.
“My children know first-hand how I feel about the importance of education because they see it by my example of going to school,” Lavongsa said. “What’s not to love about that?”
For Houting, having a child is motivation for his education.
“It’s an added responsibility other than homework. You have a real and present reason to do well in school.”
For all of the parents, it’s a collaborative effort.
“They [my children] help me as much as I help them,” Palmer said.
One of Lavongsa’s favorite things about being a parent and a student is that her children’s education can be an interactive experience.
“My oldest son [who attends Princeton college] just told me that you can actually take acetaminophen for hurt feelings, and it will help alleviate the pain just as you would for a headache!” Lavongsa said. “Doesn’t that sound crazy? He is passing along what he is learning at college just like I do to him and his siblings.”