As soon as Olivia Proffit suggested covering a story about college students raising kids, the energy in the room started buzzing.
“Good,” I thought as our group of reporters began assessing how to break down such an expansive topic. “This is the kind of story that needs to be told.” Proffit and I, along with our group members Peter Gonzalez and Madison Agatha-Mancebo, knew we had touched upon a subject we could delve deep into.
Cal Poly students who are also parents are hardly discussed within the context of the student body (they’re not mentioned on the diversity homepage). Though there aren’t many, they are here, and they’re working twice as hard for twice as much – not just a degree, but a degree to support a family with. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over a quarter of the nation’s undergraduate students are raising children.
To start tackling this project, I first reached out to different members of the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities. I wanted to hear their opinions, their expertise and their questions on the subject before we dove into our reporting.
For the most part, nobody that I talked to came into much contact with student parents. I spoke with three freshmen who had never thought once thought about there being students on campus who are also parents. When I asked a few San Luis Obispo residents if they knew much about students being parents, they didn’t have much to offer, either, and the professor that I spoke with had never taught a student-parent before.
These sources did, however, give us some direction for our reporting: they wanted to know how these student-parents balance their time, how they manage to do in school, how many of them are at Cal Poly. With a better sense of guidance for the story, we got to work finding sources.
There are different types of student-parents. There are those who are returning students, well into their twenties or thirties, who’ve been raising their families for a few years. There are also those who entered college without kids but became parents along the way. Each has a different story to tell.
“It’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.” – Melinda Radsliff, psychology student and single mom
Our first interview was with Melinda Radsliff, a transfer student in her second year studying child development. She’s a 32-year old returning student and a single mom. She explained how she balances taking care of her three-year-old daughter, Evelyn, with going to school, and how she pays for it all (mostly through student loans).
“The support for students with children who want to finish an upper level college degree is severely lacking,” Radsliff told us. “So it’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.”
Radsliff was the subject for Gonzalez’s video, in which he filmed an interview with and then her dropping Evelyn off at the ASI Children’s Center.
“I think that the initial storyboarding gave me a foundation for creating the video,” Gonzalez said. “Having footage from the sit-down interview and the morning with Melinda helped create a fuller story.”
We then talked to Elizabeth Barrett, a psychology professor, to gain a better understanding of the stressors that are involved with parenting and going to school at the same time. She said that trying to meet the physical and emotional demands of a child while trying to stay on top of school work can often lead to problems, especially if with single parents.
Parents are often so focused on trying to create a better life for their child in the future, she said, without realizing that they’re missing out on the present. That can lead to loneliness and behavioral disorders in children.
For the most part, the parents we talked to have gotten a good grasp on balancing school and family, but not without rigorous scheduling. Hallelujah Adams, a married mother of two and psychology student, said that 70% of her time is dedicated to school – the rest is divvied up for family time and sleep.
“School for me is my thing and that takes so much time already that all the other stuff just [doesn’t take priority],” said Adams.
Our multimedia reporter, Agatha-Mancebo, asked all her sources about how they split their time between work, school, family and other functions of life. Her graphic displays how a typical Cal Poly student with a job versus Cal Poly student-parent split up their time every day.
“I was shocked and inspired by our interviews with the different parents,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily have any predisposed opinions, but when I got to meet both mothers I felt so inspired by what they have accomplished all while raising children.”
Proffit also spoke with a student who got pregnant as a Cal Poly freshman, who became the main source for the story. She had the most interesting and unique perspective of the parents we talked to. But when Proffit talked to the director of the ASI Children’s Center, she couldn’t quite get the data on student-parents she was looking for.
“I had to learn to be flexible when my story idea didn’t quite pan out how I thought it would,” Proffit said. “I struggled to find interesting sources and solid data.”
Despite the few twists and turns in the reporting process, we got a good glimpse into the day-to-day life of a parent who is also going to school, and overall, it’s important that those stories are told.