The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Superhero single moms continue education at TCC

By Elyssa Whaley/ne news editor

Heather Neilson was 18 when she found out she was pregnant in December 2010.

“It was a grow up right now kind of thing,” she said. “I thought it was all fun and games. I was like every other 17-year-old who thought I could take care of myself and take on the world.”

Neilson is not alone. Being a single parent is not uncommon, yet the challenges that must be overcome are trying and demanding mentally, emotionally and financially.

Neilson still thought she’d continue to work 40 hours a week and take five classes during her pregnancy.

“I was exhausted,” she said. “I would go to school in the mornings, work from mid-afternoon into the evening and finish my homework when I got home.”

Neilson and her boyfriend separated but still share custody of their son.

“You have to do what’s best for your child,” she said. “If you can be friends, be friends.”

She moved back in with her parents for the first six months to be a stay-at-home mom after the split. Since then, she has moved out and works two jobs.

Faith Alexander and her mother LaTesha Alexander do homework outside of TR Campus. LaTesha is one of many single mothers who attend TCC. Photo by Carrie Duke/The Collegian
Faith Alexander and her mother LaTesha Alexander do homework outside of TR Campus. LaTesha is one of many single mothers who attend TCC. Photo by Carrie Duke/The Collegian

“I work in the church as a nursery supervisor and put in four days a week at Boston’s as a server. Between the two, I work full time,” she said. “When I’m working at the church, I can take my son with me, and that helps a lot.”

When it comes to school, Neilson said online classes are amazing and have afforded her the opportunity to maintain her work and school schedule.

“My son is in preschool two days a week,” she said. “I do my homework at Starbucks from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.”

Neilson said she hasn’t changed much as a person but has noticed her experience has been an evolving process. She said she doesn’t think about money, but she thinks about how things would affect the time she spends with her son.

“My son comes first instead of me looking out for me,” she said. “He’s my everything.”

Neilson has switched majors for something more attuned to her interests utilizing the distance learning program.

“At first, I was going to school to be a nurse because it was the quickest way to get in school and out and make money,” she said. “But after struggling with a science class, I decided to change my major in a field I enjoyed more.”

Neilson is now majoring in journalism and would like to teach in high school.

Anita Peters, counselor on NE Campus, said students who take classes and support a family on their own are extremely motivated to earn a better living.

She said single parents have a strong determination and dedication to get through school and take care of their children.

“What we try to encourage them not to do is to get into too big of a hurry,” she said. “If they try to take too many classes at once while working, they can overwhelm themselves.”

Peters said students risk crushing themselves and may get the feeling they can’t accomplish what they wanted to do after all.

“They are very, very capable, but it’s important to strategize,” she said.

Peters said it’s important for single parents to meet with counselors and academic advisors to make academic plans.

“Taking too many classes and putting too much on your plate can be counterproductive,” she said. “Dropping classes also costs money, and if you’re receiving financial aid, you’re potentially in jeopardy.”

Her suggestion is to take one or two classes a semester.

“There may be times you can’t take any, but just keep moving and going when you can,” she said.

Peters once had an instructor tell her, “You’re going to be 35 one way or another with or without a degree,” implying it’s better to have a degree than not.

When it comes to maintaining stress levels, Peters suggested trading baby-sitting with a friend for an afternoon to get some study or downtime to from burning out. Peters said some resources are available for students who need clothing, food and health care.

“I don’t want them to think they will walk in here, and we’ll wave a magic wand,” she said. “But at least getting them in here, we can see if we can get them some possible support.”

LaTesha Alexander, who attends TR, is a single parent of four high school children.

Alexander’s journey started when she was hanging with the wrong crowd in the 11th grade and became pregnant at 17.

“There was a mentoring program for students at the TCC South Campus,” she said. “We were paid to go to school. I received my GED.”

At 17, she decided to move out and make sacrifices.

“I went to work. We all know what we have to do, and I had to take care of my children,” she said. “When I was younger, being a mother was second nature for me. I was always helping with kids.”

After being out of school since her mentoring program in high school, Alexander returned in August.

“I took 14 hours last semester, and I’m taking 19 hours now,” she said.

Alexander said she has a good support system in place. In the mornings, she drops off her children with her parents who take them to school while she and her oldest daughter, Faith Alexander, go to TR Campus.

When they finish classes, Alexander heads to her children’s school and volunteers.

After school, her children all volunteer at Teen Court in Fort Worth, she said.

Alexander works for a doctor’s office from home as well as in the work-study program at TCC. She hopes to complete a degree so she can develop a career in social work.

Alexander said her children know what they have to do to take care of themselves. At the end of the school day, they all do homework together at the table.

“I wasn’t the kind of parent to dump my children off on my parents. I have always taken care of them,” she said. “I’ve gotten to see them grow up and the bond they have amongst themselves.”

She said her parents and her faith have helped. For fun, the family plays card games and dominoes, and when she’s stressed, she turns on Netflix.

“At the end of the day, you have to know God has equipped you with everything you need,” she said.

Her oldest daughter Faith said, “I think we’ve made her a cooler person,” and smiled at her mother across the table.

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