Making A Difference For Student Parents And Children

Making A Difference For Student Parents And Children

By Marni Roosevelt, Founder and Director of the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center

As ball-point pens and notebooks of all sizes reoccupy aisles of shelfspace, it’s clear that back to school season is approaching. Parents shop for their children; educators shop for the classroom; and even working adults take advantage of the competitive deals. But is that all you need for school — just a spiral notebook and a shiny new pen? If you were to ask Rosa, a student at Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC), she would say no.

Rosa is not only a student, but a mother and a provider. She graduated from high school while pregnant with her daughter. But now with the support of her mother, Rosa is pursuing a college degree. Balancing school, work, and life is hard. It’s even harder if you’re first-generation, low-income, a student-parent, unemployed, or hungry and homeless. That’s the reality of many community college students, of which nearly 30% across the nation have young children at home (Institute for Women’s Policy Research). That’s why we at the Los Angeles Valley College developed the LAVC Family Resource Center (FRC), to better address the educational support needs of students like Rosa.

Hearing about the FRC through word-of-mouth, Rosa first discovered the facility from a friend and became a frequent visitor to its lactation room. Over time, Rosa felt more comfortable with the FRC staff and slowly began taking advantage of its many free supportive elements including childcare, baby supplies, child-friendly study lounges, tutoring, and parent and baby playgroups. They receive diapers, formula, and baby clothes from the center. Rosa also brings her daughter to our kid-friendly study lounge on campus, a facility that provides her with access to tutoring, academic advisement and drop-in childcare. She also receives textbooks and school supplies, and “shops” at our food pantry, which combats food insecurity by providing free organic produce from Food Forward.

Since its founding in 2000, our philosophy has always been simple — if the family unit is strong, the student is more able to succeed in school. We take our mission to heart: when FRC staff was concerned that Rosa’s baby was showing subtle signs of developmental delays, we helped arrange early intervention services at The Help Group. Rosa, her mom, and the baby are all benefitting from facilitated playgroups at the FRC for parenting skills, socialization, community referrals, mental health counseling, and building a social network of support.

As the FRC helped Rosa navigate adulthood, the LA College Promise covered her college tuition, allowing her to stay in school and giving her the freedom to not seek full time employment. While completing her general education courses, Rosa enrolled in a 6-week workforce training academy at LAVC’s Workforce Strategy Center to become a Metro bus operator. The FRC integrates holistic support services into all workforce academies, and as part of the academy, she is attending workshops to help her learn how to budget, write a resume, and learn more about professionalism. We’re grateful to contribute to Rosa’s success, and now she feels more empowered to fully utilize the FRC as a bridge to a brighter future.

From Rosa and other student parents, we learned that many parents feel isolated and have multiple challenges beyond funding and childcare. It became clear to us that student parents need their own campus-based support system. Our family approach focuses on providing support and opportunities for parents and children together, and we know that both generations move forward together when parents can pursue education and workforce training. In order to make even more connections for our students, we work closely with local community agencies that fill in any gaps in services.

Typically, community colleges don’t offer family support. Research shows there is a gap in social services to fully meet the needs of higher education students (Wisconsin Hope Lab) and supportive services in workforce academies are limited (IWPR). LAVC is unique in thinking “out-of-the box” by creating the first and only Family Resource Center on a community college campus in California, to address this gap in support.

In 2013, Ascend at the Aspen Institute recognized the FRC as an innovative national model for promoting social and economic mobility for student parents in higher education. Since then, our holistic family-friendly approach is being used to help other colleges develop similar programs.

Rosa’s story is one of so many that we hear on our college campus on a regular basis. Student-parents are both scholars in the classroom and providers at home. Personal lives cannot be suppressed to make room for academics, and the pressure to choose family or education can impact a student’s ability to stay in school. FRC is making an impact through interventions and most importantly, knowing that there’s a team that cares. It made all the difference for Rosa, and can make the difference for more!

At the FRC, we are grateful that the Los Angeles Promise removes the financial barriers to help students succeed. And we support the College Promise Campaign, which encourages localities and states throughout the nation to make the first two years of community or technical education as universal and free as high school has been for the century.

The College Promise Campaign understands that barriers to higher education go beyond tuition and fees. That’s why it’s encouraging communities building Promise programs to design initiatives that can support students with advising and coaching and cover the other costs of attending college, things like, rent, transportation, and childcare.

Find out how your community might join the more than 200 localities that have already built College Promise programs in 44 states. collegepromise.org/start.

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