Parent-Voices Blog Series
Ascend at the Aspen Institute is committed to raising the voices of families to inform two-generation approaches in practice, policy, research, and philanthropy. At the 2015 Aspen ThinkXChange, 20 parents nominated by Ascend Network partners participated in the plenaries, break-out sessions, and activities, acting as both experts on topics like social capital and mental health as well as providing insights into the experiences of parents in two-generation programs. The Parent Voices blog series is authored by these parents.
My journey as a student parent started just over four years ago when I had my daughter, Saffy, in the fall of my senior year of high school. Like most seniors, I was applying to colleges for the following year, but unlike my peers, I had to consider how I was going to manage being a college student and a full time parent. I knew it would be challenging, but I never doubted that I would go to college after having my daughter.
When I began applying to schools, I did not know that there were college programs that were two-generational: supporting student-parents and their children together. When my father discovered the two-generational Keys to Degrees program at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, I eagerly toured and learned more about it the summer before my senior year. Keys to Degrees offered on-campus apartments, financial assistance for childcare tuition, and the opportunity to connect with other student parents. With the support of my family, I applied and got into both Keys to Degrees and Endicott College.
When I started at Endicott, my goal was simply to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree. In my years in Keys to Degrees I have gained a support system from other student parents and friends that have made my pursuit of a degree possible. The program and college provide me family-friendly housing on campus so I am a part of the campus community. Saffy has lived at Endicott since she was nine months old and, now at the age of four, considers it her home. She took her first steps in the common room in our dorm and she has celebrated every one of her birthdays at Endicott. We eat in the dining hall several times a week, sometimes with other moms and their children enrolled in Keys to Degrees and sometimes with friends who are traditional students. The dining hall workers know Saffy well and always greet her with enthusiasm. Work-study students look after my daughter when I attend guest speaker and campus events or meet with classmates to work on projects. Saffy and I enjoy attending Endicott-hosted child-friendly events such as trick-or-treating in the dorms, pumpkin painting, holiday movie screenings, or arts and crafts events. Our personal family life and my academic career are integrated within many areas and communities on the campus that allow both my daughter and me the space to learn and grow.
Having children on campus has also benefited other students’ research and learnings. Last spring, an Education class invited my daughter and some of the other children on campus to be subjects in a research project about the perceptions children have about the college. The class took her on walks around campus, asked her about her favorite places at Endicott and then had her create an art piece that showed her interpretation of Endicott. While she was with the class, I had some uninterrupted time to get schoolwork done. After the project was completed, Saffy constantly asked me when she could do it again.
The Keys to Degrees program has introduced me to many other young parents in college much like myself. The connection that we have is unique because we are all going through a similar struggle: balancing the logistics of parenting and schoolwork. I am thankful to have these other student-parent moms in my college life. I have relied on them countless times for parenting advice, babysitting, and my daughter’s drop-off or pick-up from school when I needed help. I have helped new moms in the program by offering advice on which classes to take and how to register for classes. My daughter loves playing with the other kids in our building and I love that while she plays, I get the chance to hang out with other moms and cook or talk about our theses.
I have also pursued my academic passions and interests and gained professional developments through Endicott’s work-study program. I was hired as research assistant for the National Center for Student Parent Programs to research and map the colleges and universities across the country that have housing for student-parents. My findings indicate that there are many colleges with family housing, but few with two-generational programs.
My experiences talking to the other young parents who tour Endicott and attend Keys to Degrees events throughout the year has made me want to further develop a career helping young parents go to college. I have recently started applying to graduate school programs to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. I hope that telling people about the benefits of two-generational college programs and my experience in one for the last four years will encourage more colleges and universities to implement programs.