Student-Parents are Finding Warm Welcomes Back to College This Fall

More than 2 million community college students are parents of children under the age of 18, and at Amarillo College, the average student is a parent. As students were returning to campus in August to turn in paperwork, get registered, buy books, and more, Cassie Montgomery, the director of outreach services and an adjunct instructor in the speech communication department, had something new just for parents who might have brought their kids along: the Busy Badger Coloring and Activity Book. The book includes a maze to graduation, a “Success is AC” hidden word search, and more. Available at the AskAC counter, financial aid, advising, and bookstore, the books (available with individual packets of crayons) show children “what they can achieve when they tag along with you to get things done.”

Montgomery, responsible for overseeing recruitment efforts, said the idea for the book came about in 2019 when she was in the advising office and saw adult students who brought children in, but seemed uncomfortable or intimidated. She looked for snacks for the kids, but she didn’t think that was enough. She found balls in the college’s swag storage and when she bounced them over to the kids, saw how they lit up, and parents relaxed. Montgomery took that experience back to the marketing team and they explored other ideas for what they could provide for student parents. They wanted something affordable, easy, and customizable, with messaging related to the experience of going to college. Enter the Busy Badger book.

Amarillo College employs two interns from the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning (AACAL), a STEM-focused branch campus for Amarillo Independent School District students, who want an accelerated curriculum in addition to their traditional classroom environment. In 2019, those two interns created the book’s framework, including page count, complexity of skill required for activities, the dimensions and layout. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, another AACAL intern, Emily Flores, took the lead on creating the actual book. Flores is a full-time Amarillo student, part-time employee, and former AACAL intern. Flores designed all of the final product, including the coloring pages and various activities.

Montgomery said she sees that prospective and current students can’t turn parts of themselves off and wants to accept and meet them where they are. As an instructor, she tells students to do what they need to meet their own caregiving responsibilities and said that is part of the college’s culture of caring.

“We want students who bring their children onto campus to know that we love their children just as much as we love them,” Montgomery said.

Other Network colleges are finding creative ways to help parents, too. In August, Montgomery College hosted a half-day session on a Saturday to connect single-parent families with resources to help them succeed. Workshops included “Proactive Parenting for Single Dads,” skills-based sessions on money management, how to help parents to help their child to succeed, and a wellness session that included chair yoga and guided relaxation, and more. In addition to the workshops, attendees heard from speakers including a current single parent student, and could attend exhibitor breakouts for resources or take a virtual tour of the college.

Last week, Generation Hope and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research hosted a “Student Parent” Twitter chat that ATD and Meredith Hatch, ATD’s Senior Associate Director for Workforce and Academic Alignment, participated in around why it’s essential for higher education leaders to support student parents in this time. Data shared confirmed what Montgomery saw firsthand: 20 percent of student parents indicated they felt very unwelcome or somewhat unwelcome on their campuses.

The dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and racism are affecting student parents in significant ways: they may be experiencing basic needs insecurity, especially around childcare; they might not have reliable WiFi at home or an environment that they can effectively study from; and other work or caregiving obligations may make them among the first students to hit pause on their education to meet their families’ needs. That’s why data collection around changing student parent needs, flexible scheduling, intentional support through counseling and other supports is critical. (See ATD’s COVID-19 resources page here and the ATD and USC Race and Equity Center Racial Equity Leadership Academy here.)

ATD would like to learn more about how other Network colleges are supporting student parents on their campuses this fall. Have an idea? Please send them to MHatch@achievingthedream.org.

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