Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Philly parents get one step closer to achieving their life goals by graduating from Parent University

In just a few days’ time, our 2013 Peirce graduates will be walking across the stage at Commencement. Today we wanted to take a moment as everyone prepares for that special night to highlight the stories of two of our graduates who were part of the Parent University program -- Jennifer Boone and Carla Bell.

If you missed it, Peirce joined forces with the School District of Philadelphia’s Parent University in 2010 in an education initiative to increase the number of working adult residents in Philadelphia earning college degrees. Peirce offered 25 parents of children who are enrolled in the Philadelphia School District the opportunity to earn an associate degree in General Studies to help them start their college careers. These students have now completed the three-year program and will have a new advantage to get ahead in their careers or move to a more fulfilling job path.

Out of the over 250 parents who applied, Jennifer and Carla were among the 25 chosen to earn their college degree on scholarship. As parents of children in the Philadelphia school system, they have inspired their friends, family, and communities by earning their college degrees. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know them, and wanted to share their stories with our blog readers.

Jennifer Boone

WORKING ADULT: Jennifer went to Parent
University to pursue her dream of being
an educator
Jennifer, 47, is a mother of two. Although she had always dreamed of being a teacher, she went into the military as a young woman to support her family. After being honorably discharged, she is now a Philadelphia police officer, a post she has been proud to hold for 21 years.

But her first dream of being a teacher was always in the back of her mind. So in 2008, when her children didn’t need as much care at home, she began taking classes one at a time at Philadelphia Community College. Then she heard about the Parent University program from a member of her church, who encouraged her to apply, and she was accepted.

Jennifer worked full-time and took care of her family while attending Peirce. She really enjoyed her classes and helping other parents who didn’t have college experience. With the ultimate goal of being a teacher, helping other parents was great experience for her. She also paid special attention to the teaching style of Peirce faculty members, who encouraged the parents the same way the parents encourage their children: study, pay attention to detail, and get the work done.

Jennifer is now set to graduate with a 3.7 GPA, exceeding the personal goal she set for herself. She plans to continue her education after graduation by entering an Early Childhood Education program to continue toward her dream of becoming an educator.

Jennifer credits a lot of her success to the Parent University program. "The opportunity to go to Peirce and have a schedule and a curriculum that I had to follow and worked with my life was great,” Jennifer said. “If I had stayed with CCP, I may have found reasons to not have completed the classes for one reason or another, scheduling being a big one. Parent University at Peirce made it accommodating for us, working parents, to be able to complete it.”

As a parent of two, Jennifer says her college success has solidified the mantra she has always told her children. "They're proud of me," she said. "I've always contended that you're never too old to go to college and get a degree. And I've just proven to them that it's true. I'm actually not done. I don't even think I'm going to stop at the bachelor's. I think I'm going to keep going. You know, I might be a lifetime student for all I know."

We asked Jennifer to share some advice for other parents who aren’t sure if they’ll be able to balance work, taking care of a family, and earning a college degree. "I would suggest that parents start with one class at a time,” she offers. “Because taking one class at a time can equal a degree over time. And that degree will lead you to opportunities. Education is always good. Even if you never get the degree, education could be beneficial to even your present employment. So even though my degree doesn't really apply to my current employment situation, it took me to my second career that has always been my first love. You’re never too old to find what you love, and do it."

Congratulations, Jennifer!

Carla Bell

ADULT LEARNER: Carla Bell earned
her college degree and inspired her family
to do the same
Carla, 38, is a single mom of one. When she found out she was pregnant at the end of her senior year of high school, she put her scholarship to Clark University on the back burner to concentrate on raising her son. She worked for the School District of Philadelphia from 2004 until 2012, serving her last three years as a Student Advisor and School Improvement Support Liaison.

In her role as student advisor, she was always looking for higher education opportunities for students and their parents. So when she stumbled upon Peirce’s Parent University program, she knew she had to apply—even though applications were due that same day! She ran down to the School District of Philadelphia, Office of Family Engagement to make sure her application got in on time, and was selected to be part of the program.

Carla found that she had some work colleagues in her Parent University class. “There were four other people in the Parent U class that worked for the School District of Philadelphia,” she told me. “So we were able to encourage each other. We knew we had to get our degrees in order to progress professionally. Even though we were qualified for promotions with our experience, not having a college degree hindered us from moving up.”

But Carla became close with all of her classmates, including Jennifer. “Jennifer and I first met when we sat next to each other at the Peirce College information session at the School District of Philadelphia headquarters,” she said. “She and I made arrangements to meet each other at Peirce College for the next step of the process. As we headed into the building for testing, earlier than the scheduled time, we were joined by Lori Coleman and Darnice Martinez as the first four candidates in line. Our acceptance into the program was confirmation that the early bird truly does catch the worm. All four of us are graduating this Monday.”

She also leaned on Peirce faculty and staff members for support. “I got attached to Marguerite Pannell because she speaks my tech language,” she said. “John King challenged me to have a solid foundation for any argument. Patti, Nadine, and Juanita were like our main cheerers from Peirce. And Ellen Massey, a tutor in the Walker Center, is so helpful.”

Carla is excited to graduate with her associate degree this year, and has already begun taking classes toward earning her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration to fulfill her dream of becoming a small business owner. She also hopes to run for public office and go on for her master’s degree at Peirce.

Carla has always pushed the students she advises to go for post-secondary education, and is now proud that she has her college degree as well. “This experience allowed me to practice what I preach much stronger,” she said. In fact, from her experience, she has encouraged her sister, Christiann, and her son, Shaun, to take classes at Peirce as well.

Carla is proud that she was the catalyst for them to begin earning their college degrees, and credits much of that to the Parent University program. “I had contemplated going back to school, but I think that process would have been further delayed had Parent University not been an option,” she said. “I don’t know how long it would have been before I actually did it, and I probably would have taken a longer road instead of just finding out more about the college that was best suited for my needs.”

She also has some advice for parents like her who might be thinking about earning their college degree. “Nike used to have a slogan: “Just do it,” she said. “I made so many excuses as to why I couldn’t do it—finances being one. But I realized that the financial struggle of not doing it actually made it harder for me. I was already 30—I’m pushing 40 now—and I had great work experience but had to take menial jobs just to make ends meet because I didn’t have a college degree. I said just go ahead and do it. Go for it.”

Congratulations to Carla on earning her degree! We can’t wait to see Jennifer, Carla, our other Parent University students, and all of our 2013 graduates at Commencement on June 10.