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Student Parents Balance School and Family During COVID-19

Illustration by Mary Guevara

Being a student and a parent is a hard thing to do. Being a student and a parent during a pandemic is even harder. 

Clark’s parents are feeling the strain of balancing work, school, their children’s education and family time during COVID-19. However, they all persevere with a sense of humor and undeniable love for their children. 

Olga Gira is a full-time accounting student at Clark, an office assistant at Enrollment Services and a mother. She’s taking 17 credits this term, while also caring for her toddler when he’s not at daycare. Gira utilizes Clark’s Child and Family Studies daycare system, where she received a grant that allows her to study during the day while her child is taken care of. 

However, she explained that having such a busy schedule comes with its disadvantages. Not only does she struggle with finding time for her social life, but she also misses out on time with her child. Despite challenges, Gira doesn’t let this get in the way of her success.

“I’m the kind of person like if I start something, I put all my soul in and I give it all my time just to make sure I’m the best [at] what I’m doing,” Gira explained.

Besides difficult time constraints, other factors have made Gira’s experience even harder, such as reduced daycare hours because of COVID-19. Gira relies on these hours to go to work and study while her child is away. Without CFS, Gira explained that she wouldn’t be able to continue her education. 

[The best part about CFS is] they are open all the time,” Gira said. “Other daycares closed down because of COVID, but having CFS gave me the chance to continue working towards my education goals.”

Gira explained that besides her job, classwork and parenting, she still has cleaning and cooking to do at home. To keep balance, Gira will do certain tasks like cleaning and cooking with her child, but classwork and working while her child is away. She said she uses the time she has with her children as a way to connect and teach them basic lessons while she’s doing chores around the house. 

Gira has also been awarded scholarships that help to reduce the financial burden of college. However, financial aid guidelines have put a lot of pressure on Gira because they require that she maintain her GPA and be in school full-time.

Amanda McConville, a friend of Gira, is a single mother of three children, all of whom are in different schools and different age groups. On top of being a parent, she is also taking 15 credits at Clark and working to support her family. 

 McConville’s kids have staggered schedules, meaning she has to help each of them prepare for school, attend class, turn in assignments, and work on Zoom for several hours every morning. McConville said it is difficult to learn all of her children’s programs and avoid technical difficulties. 

McConville explained that one of her children has trouble turning in assignments because the program that her school uses is not very high-quality. She said that her child gets frustrated often and finds her grades suffering simply because the programs used by her school don’t ensure her work makes it to her teacher. 

Also, there is no proper way for McConville to track her children’s progress in their classes. Therefore, a lot of the time McConville has with her kids is spent preventing their assignments from being lost, deleted, or misunderstood. 

“I want to help as much as I can, but my hands are tied,” McConville said. “And then on top of that, I’m taking 15 credits this term.”

McConville said that her children often struggle with loneliness because they lack interaction with their classmates and finding alternatives to everyday socialization has been seemingly impossible. On top of the daily dullness, her kids are also feeling the sorrow of missing out on dances, sports games, and other activities that come with school.

“They’re getting, like, cabin fever, like, ‘Let me out, I want to go back to school and hang out with my friends,’” McConville said. 

Before COVID-19, McConville was highly involved on campus at Clark. Last school year she was the vice president of Phi Theta Kappa, an honor society where she ran fundraisers for the community, got people involved in events and socialized with the community. Without on-campus activities, McConville has spent her time sewing over 400 masks and donating them to hospitals and people in need. 

Alexis Nelson, a Clark English professor, has seen the difficulties that student parents are facing. Nelson is the mom of a 4-year-old who was able to stay in school during COVID-19. 

“Sometimes they’re raising kids and doing school and working full time,” said Nelson. “So I’m sort of continually astounded by all that, you know, they’re able to manage and the dedication that they have to do all of that.”

Nelson explained that she has had many students reach out to her with COVID-19 related challenges. She said that she tries to support students as much as she can while working with them in an online setting.

“I think it’s always challenging to be a student and a parent,” said Nelson. “So, I would say I’m always amazed by how much my students are able to juggle.” 

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