A Balancing Act: Priorities shifted for BU students with children

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Originally published in The Voice

It’s rise and shine at 6:30 a.m. for Chantel Shambach, a 20-year-old sophomore and mother, who makes sure her son Landen is taken care of before leaving the house shortly before 8 a.m.

It seems like it would be impossible. For most, being a full-time student is already too much stress. On top of a relationship, there are many students that have children. In the hustle and bustle of students walking abruptly to their next class around the quad, it would be hard to find these  students among us.

On Thursdays, Shambach arrives on campus after 9 a.m., commuting from Sunbury over 45 minutes away in morning traffic. After dropping Landen off at the Campus Child Care Center, which is located in the basement of Montour Hall, Shambach attends class from 9:30 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

Shambach is not alone. In fact, there are dozens of students on campus that follow similar schedules and routines each day. Katie Berger and Carly Tobin, both graduates of Bloomsburg High School, are pursuing their degrees while raising children.

“This whole experience, of having children, has challenged me to be more organized and has helped my self-esteem,” said Berger, who has two boys at the age of 26 and has been married for five years. “I know that I am able to succeed.”

Berger is pursuing a degree in nursing, a major she says that she loves, but has a lot of work to do for. She came to Bloomsburg University after spending one year at Wilkes University as a pre-pharmacy major.

Tobin, 26, completed her bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and audiology here at BU and is now working on her doctorate in audiology. She hopes to complete the doctorate program in December 2012.

Tobin spends four days at week in Scranton at Ross Audiology, which is where her externship placement is. She says that being that far away is hard, but that furthering her degree is important in moving her family forward.

At the age of 19, Heather Brown is juggling a 17-credit semester with a 17-month-old son.

“If it weren’t for my planner, I would be lost,” said Brown. “If an event is not written in my planner, forget it!”

Brown is a student in the College of Liberal Arts at BU and is currently pursuing a degree in music education. She says that simple things like scheduling classes and time management are more important to her than the average student.

“Making sure my schedule matches up with my fiancé’s schedule is crucial for making sure that we can always be there,” says Brown. “The daycare is a great resource and is very convenient, but it is only open until 5 p.m.”

Scheduling is just one example of the extra responsibilities that need to be put forth by students with children.

“Fun is at the bottom of the list,” says Justine Peters. “I spend time daydreaming about the future, when I will have a job and no school.”

Peters is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting major. At 25 years of age, Peters has a three-and-a-half year old daughter named Maddie. Originally from the Selinsgrove area, Peters resides in Danville. The short commute is convenient for Peters with having classes at BU and daycare being on campus. Unlike the other mothers, Peters hopes to move out of the area to Maryland after graduation.

A positive support system is very important, something that many of these mothers do have. Shambach says without her parents there to help out that she would not be able to do everything that she is accomplishing.

“I am lucky to have a tight knit family that cares about me. Not everyone has that,” said Shambach. “Not going to college, in my family, was not an option.”

Peters does not deny having an extremely busy and hectic life, but credits her parents for proving her with the support she needs in order to make everything happen. If she needs to attend an interpreting event, her parents are there to watch her daughter so she can further her learning.

These women also hold part-time jobs on top of an already overbearing lifestyle. Shambach works at Kohl’s department store a few nights week, Peters works with the elderly at Nottingham Village in Northumberland, Berger is employed by the Department of Nursing here on campus, and Brown works at Cracker Barrel as a waitress.

“It is at work that I find time to spend with my friends,” said Brown. “I don’t have the spare time to spend with friends like many other college students.”

Berger agrees that there is a limited amount of time in the day, and that her priorities have become completely different.

“Ever since I have become a mother, there has been a constant conflict in priorities,” says Berger. “I need to find a good mix of spending time with my family and getting all my schoolwork done.”

“Trying to do your best,” is what Peters says is her biggest struggle. “Motherhood changes you completely, for the better of course.”

All the mothers agree that although they are not getting the typical college experience, they would not trade their current situations for the world. While walking through campus, Brown feels a little disconnected from the overall student population.

“There are times when I feel distanced from other students,” said Brown. “I have a lack of friends and have to realize that partying and drinking on a Saturday night is not going to happen.”

Peters wonders what that typical experience would be like. She thinks about what her life would be like without a child, but being a parent to her is more fulfilling.

On the weekends is when these mothers find the time to sit down and get some schoolwork done. They do not seem to be complaining all that much either. Tobin says that it is better than having a full-time job.

Instead of screeching their breaks and putting a degree on hold, these individuals are furthering their education for a better life for themselves and their families.

Berger gives strong advice to women who want to also pursue an education in the midst of raising a child.

“It has to be something that you truly want to do. Put all of the pieces together slowly and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.”

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