U student-parents mentor young mothers

University student-parents shared advice with high school mothers Tuesday.

Heather L. Mueller

For University student-parents, earning a degree holds precedence over parties and procrastinating.

They’re not the typical college student, said Susan Warfield, director of Student Parent HELP Center and licensed social worker. They have the additional challenge of caring for their children while dealing with finals, work and bills.

About 75 undergraduates shared their experiences, advice and knowledge of the University system with 100 high school mothers at the second annual Student Parent Visibility Day on Tuesday afternoon on Northrop Plaza.

The event, organized by the HELP (Higher Education for Low-Income People) Center and the Student Parent

Association, sought to draw attention to the specific challenges of University student-parents and aimed to motivate and encourage high school mothers to continue their education.

Communication studies senior Lisa Cole is a full-time student who works 20 hours a week and has two children, ages 6 and 2. She struggles to find study time because her kids come first.

“The first time I crack a book is 9 or 10 at night, and weekends don’t pan out because the kids want to play outside on their day off of day care,” she said. “You fight to find time.”

But Cole said she feels less alone in her struggle because of the support she receives from her parent peers in the Student Parent Association and the HELP Center. She said having a community to turn to for support on campus is essential to her success.

The HELP Center, one of few programs of its kind in the nation, offers services, assistance and support for undergraduate fathers and mothers to increase retention and academic success.

It is estimated that about 1,000 University undergraduates have children or dependents. This semester about 350 sought out the social support and financial resources available through the HELP Center, such as state and federal day-care cost assistance – as if tuition costs weren’t enough of a challenge, the average parent spends $100-250 a week on day care per child.

Organizers build awareness about opportunities and resources for high school parents struggling to make future plans in order to help fight the cyclical nature of poverty and the educational disparities that often affect young parents, Warfield said.

Senior Mee Yang, from St. Paul’s Adolescent Girls and Parenting Education High School, said her in-laws encouraged her to drop out of school and work during her first pregnancy at 15.

But Yang said she was determined to graduate from high school and wasn’t going to let go of her dream of studying international business, because she knows her two children, ages 1 and 4, will benefit financially if she has a college degree.

“It was hard to be the first in my family to actually graduate from high school and then go to college,” she said. “But (my children) look up to me.”

AGAPE junior Stephanie Ros, who has a 10-month-old son, said she wants to make something of herself and has plans to attend the University.

“I never wanted to work as a laborer. I want to sit behind a desk and do something I enjoy. I want to teach,” she said.