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Many Blue Ridge Community College students are balancing college classes and part-time or full-time work. Students who are parents add family caregiving to the balancing act as well.

Three Blue Ridge moms are maintaining balance as strong students: Janessa Glover, parent of two teenagers aged 16 and 18, is earning an Associate of Arts degree. Jackie Morrison, parent to a teenager aged 15 and a 2-year-old toddler, is earning an Associate Degree in Nursing. Blaine Townsend, parent to a 3-year-old toddler, is earning an Associate of Science degree. The single moms share some college success strategies which are working for them.

Glover, who explains that “my kids inspire me,” appreciates the supportive “village” that her partner, family, and friends provide as she pursues a degree that will open up her job prospects from service industry work. 

Getting organized by using white boards for planning and seeking out the free math tutoring offered through the Student Success Center were essential parts of Glover’s study plan. She recommends “allowing yourself a big visual of what your week-to-week schedule looks like, keeping plenty of notes, giving yourself time, and reaching out for help when you need it. If you’re struggling with something, not waiting until something is due or the last minute to seek out some help.”

Being involved in student life at the college has also helped Glover, who has taken on a leadership role at the college, serving as a Blue Ridge Student Ambassador. “I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunities that have been presented to me. Being given an ambassador position in the college has been phenomenally good for my personal development. I lived an isolated life for a long time, and so being in college has been really amazing, to start meeting people in my community under positive circumstances as opposed to coming from adverse situations,” she said.

All three students articulated that financial support while attending the college in the form of grants, scholarships, the student ambassador program, work study jobs, and the child care grant were essential to entering school as a single parent.

Flexible and understanding employers have helped Morrison, a first-year nursing student, who added college course-work to her job as a CNA and parenting two children. Her job worked with her school schedule during her first year as Morrison took the pre-requisites and co-requisites needed to enter the nursing program. Since starting the nursing program, Morrison has cut down to working two shifts a week. She credits Blue Ridge Community College financial resources such as the educational foundation scholarships with making working fewer hours possible: “I get scholarships thankfully. I did take out a student loan, and I get help with daycare so there’s that.”

Time management and perseverance are critical elements for student success. Morrison studies in between classes and clinical rotations while her kids are at school and daycare. “I just have to manage my time — it’s not always manageable. Sometimes I do school work with the kids home. I have a picture on Facebook from whenever I was writing papers for English, and Londyn is sitting in my lap being crazy. My nursing school friends came over for a study group and said, ‘your toddler is climbing all over you like you are a jungle gym!’  Because I have kids, the house is never quiet, it’s always chaotic, so I can function around the chaos I guess. Active kids don’t take away from me doing stuff, and I don’t take away from them either.”

Townsend moved to Brevard to study at Blue Ridge. She is in her second year of an Associate of Science degree. Townsend shares, “I realized that I wasn’t going to get anywhere else in life without some kind of degree. I really wanted to better my life for Skylor and myself, and I know this is going to put me in a better position to take care of him the way that he needs.”

Scheduling is key for Townsend. Allowing time at night to complete homework has been her strategy. “I do most of my homework at night after Sky is sleeping in bed, so keeping a schedule is important,” she said.

Federal and state financial aid is available to eligible students on a pro-rated basis for students attending college part-time. Scholarships are available from the Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation, Golden Leaf Foundation, and other sources to students who attend full time or part time. 

Townsend has advice for other college parents:

“Don’t try to rush through college, go at your own pace and don’t over-stress yourself with having to balance work, schoolwork, and your family. Take advantage of the free time that you can get. Take advantage of the resources that Blue Ridge has to offer whether it be tutoring, or a professor’s office hours, or all the online offerings like Smarthinking tutoring.”

Townsend appreciates the flexibility of the professors at the Transylvania campus. Every teacher has been kind and understanding about the unexpected inconveniences of life.

Glover, Morrison, and Townsend are living proof that achieving a balance between family, school, and work is possible for single-parents attending college. They encourage other moms to apply and pursue their dreams, too.

Glover states, “If you want to, do pursue it, and don’t let your income, or certain dynamics in your life, don’t let that voice tell you that you can’t do it because you can, and there are ways to make it work. Don’t be afraid to reach out for something new you’re passionate about, don’t hesitate.”

Morrison affirms this sentiment, “It’s doable. You can do it. There’s help. You have to ask for it. I feel like education is the key to unlock our paths to where we want to go.”

Michele Handy

Michele Handy is the Librarian and Student Success Coordinator at Blue Ridge Community College’s Transylvania Campus. She holds a Masters of Art in English from Appalachian State University and a Masters of Library and Information Science from University of North Carolina, Greensboro.