Back to School

Susan Braunheim

On any given evening you may be able to hear college students Evangeline Jimenez and Micheal (his spelling) Gilbert discussing their day’s events. The conversation might include club activities, what each did for lunch, -at went on at school, pretty standard discourse for two Glendale College students who live together, sharing similar majors in advertising art and graphic design.

What makes these students remarkable is that Evangeline is Micheal’s mom.

These two are living a relatively new experience of mothers and children attending college together.

According to a United States Census Bureau survey, the greatest percentage of increase in college attendance is women 30 and over. Mothers particularly are going back to college and graduating in record numbers.

And the college is doing no more than reflecting the general trend in higher education of serving more and more female students, said Edward Karpp, Glendale Community College’s Associate Dean of Institutional Research and Planning. The ratio at GCC has been 60 percent female to 40 percent male since the mid-1990s. In the late 1990s, the ratio was approximately 50/50 for younger students but older students were far more likely to be female. In 2006, the number of women students between the ages of 30 and 50 was nearly double that of the men.

As the number of women attending college rises, the numbers of mothers and children attending college together has also gone up. These pairs are not only going to school at the same time, but in many cases at the same place, including Glendale College.

This presents an interesting and perhaps inherently uncomfortable situation for both the mother and the child.

“My mom can get kinda dull sometimes, but that’s every parent and you love them, so you get used to them being quirky and embarrassing,” Micheal said.

Charles Eastman, a professional art and creative director, who has taught graphic design and advertising-related courses at the college for the last 10 years has had both Evangeline and Micheal together in several of his classes.

“Evangeline and Micheal sit next to each other but are otherwise indistinguishable from their classmates,” he said. “They are independent thinkers and respond to assignments and project critiques as such. Evangeline is more verbal and engages in discussions requiring critical thought. Micheal is more internalized and intuitive, but will offer his special take on a subject when asked. Their diverse viewpoints add uniqueness and color to the class experience.”

Although the pair may be indistinguishable to others, the two must feel a certain sense of accountability to each other in class. Women tend to feel somewhat responsible for their children’s performance throughout their lives. When kids go off to college, mothers have far less input into and influence on their interests and responsibilities. Mothers may feel a sense relief and accomplishment knowing that a college-bound child is at the first stop on the way to success. A mother going to college with her child may not feel she has this luxury of letting go.

Evangeline, 60, is a sweet, enthusiastic woman whose passion and kindness is palpable. Her voice is gentle but energetic and she speaks with a self-assuredness that comes only with age. Her excitement is evident in everything she does.

Evangeline has seen her share of difficulties. She is a long-time diabetic and her health has deteriorated in recent years. She worked as a hairdresser for 40 years but got carpal tunnel syndrome that spread to her shoulders and eventually she had trouble just holding the scissors. She suffers from a heart condition and has developed?asthma, neuropathy and mild kidney failure. Her sight is also failing. Through all of this she has managed to raise three boys as a single parent.

“I didn’t like being a hairdresser anymore and my health was failing me where I couldn’t use my hands anymore,” Evangeline said. “I have always wanted to be an artist and didn’t have the opportunity because of choices I made when I was younger.”

“Even though I have all these things going on, I keep myself busy by taking classes and being surrounded with the students who also treat me as a second mom,” Evangeline said.

She is active in Delta Sigma Omicron, an organization for able and disabled students, for which she has served as vice president and president for two years. She has also been involved in and is a permanent member of Alpha Gamma Sigma, an honor society club.
It is difficult to overlook Evangeline’s kindness, sincerity and intensity. “Evangeline is open, willing to exchange ideas, gentle, but can take charge without being demanding,” Eastman said. “She has a heart for volunteering and is always eager to roll up her sleeves and pitch in for some cause. Saying that she is energetic would be an understatement. She seeks to be involved in everything, including clubs, campus activities and art and writing contests. She enjoys having her creative work on display.”

Because he has seen her struggle though so many projects, and so many classes, Eastman speaks of her with warm familiarity. “Her words are genuine; she is never superficial. I’ve never heard her utter a negative, sarcastic or condescending word. Evangeline is brave, tells the truth, is confident, and is fearless, considering that her blindness is progressing and her diabetes is life-threatening.”

Many women decide to return to school after a change in their domestic situation, perhaps a divorce or separation. A return to education may offer women a chance to develop marketable skills or a means to explore a mid-career change. Others, facing an empty nest, feel they have more time to pursue their own interests, including college. A college education can give a woman an opportunity for a second chance.
School offers mothers a way to re-invent themselves, but with their children still in tow it may also bring about surprising feelings of anxiety. Classes may be intellectually stimulating and present an opportunity for personal growth but mothers may also feel tied to their children.

“There are times that I see Micheal is struggling to finish his projects or just studying,” Evangeline said. “I try to not ‘rag’ on him, but I do get concerned that he could be doing better. He struggles with being lazy and leaving things to the last minute.”

But she is quick to add that “he has shown me lately that he can take things seriously when he wants to. He sometimes feels that he’d rather do things on his own, but I get frustrated when his priorities could be better. He’ll learn.the hard way. That’s OK. I expect too much from him. He just turned 18 in November. The instructors who know both of us remind me of that.”

College can bring about many changes in students. Young adults often use college as a time for experimentation. People tend to find themselves in college. It may be a complex growing experience for a child but, at the same time, very challenging for a parent to watch up close. If children make poor or even dangerous choices, mothers who also attend school may get a front-row seat to what they may consider disaster. Choosing when to step in and help and when to back off, is tricky when a parent is walking to class with her child.

Such close proximity and shared lifestyles can take a toll on home life as well. If a child is simply not living up to his or her potential it may create feelings, on both sides, that wouldn’t ordinarily be there if the two weren’t sharing the college experience.

“There are things that I would hope he’d learn by seeing me spend so much time studying and working on my projects, but for him it comes easier because he has sight,” Evangeline said. “I think it’s very difficult for him because this last year he became my aid and there are more responsibilities for him beside work and school. I work on trying to take the bus so that I don’t bother him, but I know when I don’t come home right away he worries even though he doesn’t tell me. He always calls to find out when I’m coming home and where I am. I love it though.”

In fall of 2007, of the 2,568 women registered in credit courses at Glendale College between the ages of 30 and 50, 1,738 plan to transfer, receive an associate’s degree or get some type of vocational certificate. Others are there to learn new job skills, for professional development or to receive a high school diploma or GED.

Claudia Alvarenga, 36, and her son Michael Bernal, 19, both attend the Developmental Skills Lab at the Glendale College’s Garfield Campus. Claudia is a single parent who raised three children. She had her oldest, now 20, at the age of 15. She currently works as a licensed vocational nurse and?wants to attend West Coast University to get a registered nurse degree. Michael wants to go to the Cordon Bleu to get a degree in culinary arts.

These two have no issues taking classes together. “We have fun while in class,” Claudia said. “Going to school with Michael is one of the best experiences ever. I get to witness how smart my son is and also make sure he is doing his work.”

The Developmental Skills Lab offers a self-paced program for improving basic skills, preparing for the high school equivalency exam completing a high school diploma.?There are small group classes led by an instructor, along with computer-aided instruction.

Claudia and Michael were both enrolled in the General Educational Development exam preparation program at the Developmental Skills Lab, located at the Garfield Campus in southeast Glendale. This campus offers continuing and community noncredit education classes in subjects ranging from ESL, citizenship, business education, computer classes, as well as GED preparation and high school diploma completion. Claudia has already taken her exam and is working on advanced nursing courses. Michael is working toward his General Educational Development certificate.

Mayra de Alvarez, 45, and her son Milton Alvarez, 20, emigrated from Guatemala in late 2005. Both attend GCC. Milton, a full-time Computer Engineering/Science major, will apply to Caltech, UCLA, USC and several other schools. This is Mayra’s first semester. She attends school to improve her English but may continue on to culinary school in the future. She also has a daughter, a junior in high school, who plans to attend Glendale College upon graduation.

Mayra has no problems with letting Milton go.
“My son and I do not meet at college unless it is necessary,” Mayra said. “He is a supplemental instructor in the computer laboratory and he is a cabinet member in the AGS honor society.? He shares his time with his friends and he does not need to be pushed to do his work.? He is doing well, and I am very proud of him.”

“If I have problems in?my classes?I go to her and ask for some advice,” Milton said. “My mom is just like?any mom, she worries about?my?performance in school?but it is not something annoying. On the contrary, it is something that shows me that she and my?dad?care about me. Basically, I have my mom and my dad as my friends and just like any other friend I always tell them about my performance in school and most of my problems.”

Their family’s dual-student status hasn’t been a hardship at all. The truth is that it has enhanced their relationship.

“Our home life is not affected negatively. In fact, it has improved because now we can share college life experiences,” Mayra said.
Many of the younger members of these mother/child student pairs don’t find it at all difficult doing their own thing with their moms going to school with them.

Mayra is careful to let her son have his space. “My mom is really cool about letting me?enjoy my life” Milton said. “I get together with my friends, we study when we need to, I go to my club activities,?basically I do all the things that college students do.”

All-in-all, the kids seem to feel a great sense of pride that their mothers are in school and greatly respect what they are doing. The children really want to see their parents succeed and vice versa.

“It is very awkward sometimes when I’m with a bunch of my friends and I see my mom,” Evangeline’s son, Micheal said. “At the same time it’s pretty cool to see her, who at her age, is doing something that I’m also doing. It makes me realize I shouldn’t be lazy.”

Some things never change for parents, regardless of their levels of education. “I know where to find my mom if I am hungry,” Milton said.