Hush baby, mommy’s studying

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By Samantha Israel

Pep Philpott, 43, is in his first year of Ryerson’s post-graduate journalism program and if he wants to keep up with the rest of the class, he must rise before the sun.

Philpott starts his day at 4:30 a.m. every weekday morning, and by 5:00 he’s ready to begin his school work. The next hour and a half is the only chance he gets to concentrate on his studies. At 6:30, he wakes three of his four children for school. While the kids get ready, Philpott makes breakfast and puts their lunches together. At 7:35, the school bus arrives to pick up his two boys, Jacob, 11, and David, 9. At 7:55 his daughter Bethany, 13, hops on her bus and Philpott is almost ready to go. His wife Jane, a doctor, takes Lydia, 3, to daycare on her way to work, and Philpott takes the 9:30 Go train from Stouffville to Union Station.

Philpott’s morning routine differs from that of the average student in his program. Most of the 20-somethings that surround him set their alarms for 9:30, just in time to walk into class by 10:10, and are out drinking by noon. Philpott is glad those days are behind him. “Partying for me is opening a bottle of wine on the weekend and watching a movie with my wife,” he says, running his fingers through his salt and pepper hair.

Although he is always performing a balancing act, Philpott has never felt as though he is taking on too much. His wife now works full-time to support the family financially, taking an extra night-shift once a week. Philpott says he misses having free time with his kids.

“When I’m with them we do the things we need to do, like homework,” he says. And with parenting and studying taking centre stage, he has little time to spend alone with his wife. He regrets not having enough time to write articles for publication, like other journalism students do, but is happy with the choices he has made. “We run a busy household, but it’s completely manageable,” he says.

Without a proper support system, the juggling act can be difficult to manage.

Sue Wilson, associate dean for the faculty of community service and professor of nutrition, began the Work Study and Family Project at Ryerson with Rheta Rosen, learning and teaching director. Because Wilson and Rosen realized that notions of what it means to be a typical student were rapidly changing, the project was devoted to adult students with family responsibilities. All first-year 1997 and 1998 Ryerson applications were sent a questionnaire with their registration form. From the responses, Wilson and Rosen chose 115 students as a sample to interview. “Their lives are intensely busy in a way that’s just hard to imagine. These students have all the worries of any other student plus so much more,” Wilson says of student parents.

One in 16 first-year, full-time Ryerson students have family responsibilities in addition to work and school. Like Philpott, they face the frustration of not being able to devote enough time to either school or family. “Adult student parents,” the study notes,” are expected to manage in institutions designed for young, unencumbered students with the luxury of time to study and meet for group work.”

Larissa Moore, 28, graduated from Concordia University with a 3.75 GPA when her daughter Kaya, now 3, was a tear old. “Before I had Kaya,” she says, “I was not doing very well in school. Having a child forced me to work hard and do well.” Moore worked as a model before going back to school this past September. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t constantly on the go.

In her first year of the post-graduate journalism program, Moore drops Kaya off at Ryerson’s Early Learning Centre five days a week. Her afternoon is as demanding as Philpott’s morning. “If it’s a long day and I feel like Kaya’s super-sensitive or missing me, I’ll drop in between classes and say hi to her, or at nap time I’ll go sit with her to help her fall asleep,” she says. When he last class is over, Moore picks kaya up from daycare, and makes her way to the subway.

But Moore hates the subway. “It ends up just being really disappointing for me because I can’t believe that people can just stare at us just standing there on the packed subway and nobody gets up, not even young kids.” Battling the crowds with a stroller is infuriating enough to force Moore to take a taxi once or twice a week.

She is still best friends with Kaya’s father, who helps as much as he can, but she is the one who juggles full-time motherhood and full-time studenthood.

Beth Urquhart is the manager of Kaya’s daytime home, the Ryerson Early Learning Centre, located on the first floor of West Kerr Hall. Her big blue eyes complement her short white hair, and her office walls are framed with pictures of smiling children. The ELC provides snacks and lunch, sensory-cognitive and gross-motor activities, dance, swimming, art, and outdoor play. It has a waiting list of hundreds of children long.

Urquhart leads a team of eight teachers and dozens of early childhood education students, and plans programs for 57 children aged three months to six years. Most of the parents with children in the program are current or former Ryerson staff and faculty, and 12 are students at Ryerson.

Urquhart sees these students daily and admires their efforts. “In order to be a successful student and parent you must learn to juggle,” she says, “and they seem to struggle through it all very well.”

Rachelle Dallaire, 28, was on the ELC’s waiting list for a year and a half. She signed up for the program when she was six months pregnant with her now 18-month-old daughter, Chantale. She finds the $60 a day program extremely expensive, but worth it. “There’s a cost to higher quality day care,” she says, “and I believe you get what you pay for. It’s very convenient and it’s a neat little program. Chantale absolutely loves it.”

Dallaire’s evening routine is as busy as Philpott’s morning and as full as Moore’s afternoon. From making dinner, to clean-up time, bath time, story time, and finally — by 8:00 p.m. — bedtime. Dallaire usually collapses between 10:00 and midnight.

“People say, ‘oh God, you must feel overwhelmed,’ and I say ‘you know what, I’m really not.’ My bad days are no worse than anybody else’s and I wouldn’t label my bad days as being bad because I have that dual life. I just don’t seem y crisis as any worse or any more significant than anybody else’s,” she says.

Dallaire began her self-proclaimed “sob-story” of a university career in a correspondence program at Waterloo in 2000. When financial struggles discouraged her, she entered the workforce instead, helping the homeless at various shelters and dealing with head injuries as a life-skills coach. Two years later while pregnant with Chantale, she realized she was running out of time to go back to school.

Even though Ryerson would not recognize a single credit she received at Waterloo, she didn’t give up and began her first year for the second time this past September. Now a social work student at the top of her class, her debt is mounting.

When she couldn’t afford tuition, books, and day care costs this year, she applied for a line of credit. Proud of her voices, she hasn’t lost her optimism. “I certainly think that any income I’ll make with a professional degree will by far surpass any student debt that I’ll incur in four years,” she says.

Money is an issue for any student, but attach a child’s costs to the mix and the results can be scary. The University of Toronto commissioned a student cost of living study in February 2003 that ofund the cost of living for student parents is roughly double that of a single students’ or a student with a partner without children.

In Toronto, for example, a single student living in any apartment off-campus pays roughly $5,00 for tuition, $7,000 for room and board, $1,500 for books and supplies, and an additional $5,00 for other living expenses, totalling $18,500. A student with one child living in an apartment off-campus will pay the same amount for tuition and books, but pays $12,500 for room and board, and $11,500 for other living expenses. If they receive subsidized child-care, the total comes to roughly $33,000. If not, they’re looking at $39,500 a year.

Ryerson’s Work Study and Family Project found that students with dependent care cope best with stress if they have a strong support network, including partners, family, and friends. Dallaire agrees.

“I have had friends who are single mothers, single working mothers, and single student mothers. I find the big thing that differentiates my situation from theirs is that I have an incredible supportive partner.

“When I need it, he’ll take Chantale out for the entire day and I think that really is the cutting edge between [us and] mothers and fathers who struggle as single parents.”

Moore may have said it best. “I am not only living for myself anymore, I am living for my daughter. I try to teach her that the word ‘can’t’ does not exist in our vocabularies.

“There hasn’t been one obstacle I haven’t been able to jump. She is my reason for everything.”

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