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Campus Women Lead

Winter 2012

Volume 40
Number 3

Access and Success for Nontraditional Students


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From Where I Sit

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Sherita Rooney
Sherita Rooney and Family

Unlocking the Door to Life’s Possibilities
By Sherita Rooney, student majoring in mathematics education at West Chester University

Mine isn’t a sad story, nor is it unique. A picture of my life would resemble that of many American girls, painted with slightly different strokes and a few highlighted blessings. Although I have experienced many things during my twenty-nine years, in a sense the life I lead today began at one distinctive moment: when I learned that I was pregnant.

I was thirteen years old and in the eighth grade when I discovered that I, although still a child myself, would soon be raising a child of my own. At that point in my life, I lacked a clear vision for my future. Having recently received the devastating news that I had not been accepted into the prestigious all-girls school I had dreamed of attending, I was now confronted with the challenge of creating not only an alternative plan for my education, but also one for my life as a teenage mother.

Finding the Key

When I discovered that I was pregnant, I evaluated the world around me for the first time. I had never thought much about where I was headed in the long term, but now I dreamed of a bright future for my unborn child. In the past, skipping school, getting drunk, and doing drugs seemed not only normal, but like legitimate ways to deal with the challenges of growing up in a poor neighborhood without many opportunities. But as I began to think outside of my immediate circumstances, I saw that would have to change. I wondered how I could help my child escape the seemingly inevitable patterns around me. If I could complete my education, I decided, I would be able to provide for my child and perhaps show him or her how much there is to life.

Education seemed to be the key—the missing piece of an old and complicated puzzle I had been trying to solve throughout my life. Most of my immediate family had been unable to continue their education past grade school, and they worked in low-paying service-oriented jobs as a result. My mother had enrolled in college, but dropped out when she became pregnant with her first child. Growing up, I watched her struggle to raise seven children alone and on welfare, working three jobs to take care of us. Despite her hard work, we often had to go without heat or electricity. At a young age, I began to abhor being poor and saw a lack of proper education as the common denominator among people of low socioeconomic class status.

What if I could break the pattern and graduate from college? With this question in mind, education became my stabilizer, my pathway to life’s possibilities. I enrolled in courses at Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County Community College when my daughter had reached the tender age of four. I knew she was silently learning from my choices. This time I would try my best to make the right ones.

Opening the Door

Fortunately, I have been able to stay the course, thanks to assistance I received as a student. When my grades began to decline in my very first semester, I was contacted by representatives from the college’s Act 101 Program (named for the Pennsylvania law passed in 1971). This was exactly what I needed at the time. I had no idea how to navigate the college process: how to study, how to write a paper, or even how to schedule my classes. Act 101 counselors helped with these aspects and even stayed in contact with my professors to monitor my attendance. They helped keep track of my grades and offered me tutoring in my most challenging classes. Before each semester, I made an appointment with a counselor who would help me schedule my classes. Counselors also held meetings in a relaxed setting where Act 101 students could discuss our struggles, life experiences, and goals for the future. The women who led the program became my mentors and confidants. Their assistance was invaluable to my progress as a student.

Approximately five years later, after having my second child, I joined the college’s Keys Program. At this point I had been in school for almost ten years, having taken only one or two classes each semester while working more than thirty hours a week to make ends meet. The Keys Program provided critical financial aid that helped offset my expenses for daycare, books, and transportation. As a single parent with a ten-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, I was in dire need of this assistance. Along with the housing voucher program, it allowed me to quit my job and focus on finally finishing my associate’s degree.

The Act 101 program and the Keys Program gave me the practical assistance I needed to succeed as a student. Just as important, being involved in them helped me feel connected to the school community. I became more engaged in other organizations on campus, including the African American Student League, the African Student Association, and the Meridian Club (an organization for nontraditional students, which I had the privilege of leading as president in its fortieth year). I thus became a leader on campus as I proceeded toward graduation.

I graduated from Montgomery County Community College after making the dean’s list for several consecutive semesters. Following graduation, I transferred to West Chester University to continue my education. I hope to obtain my bachelor’s degree in math education in May 2013 and to teach mathematics to underserved high school students whose stories resemble to my own.

Crossing the Threshold

As I prepare to become a teacher, I hope to build confidence and gain knowledge that I can use to support excellence in education for minorities and the underprivileged. My journey has shown me that education is the pathway to so many wonderful things. By obtaining my degree, I hope to not only enrich my own life and the lives of my fifteen-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, but also those of many voiceless children whom I believe deserve a chance.

In pursuing this goal, I am inspired by the many accomplished African American thinkers whom I have had the privilege of meeting over the course of my education. Learning about their struggles and successes has shown me not only the sheer tenacity that they possess, but also the endurance I have within myself. I have a fire in me now that will never be extinguished.          

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