Throughout the academic year, navigating online classes has been more difficult for some than others. This is especially true for many students with children of their own who have faced the task of balancing their child’s Zoom learning with their own.
Danica Barrick, a UO public relations major and mother of an 11-year-old, has found support through the Nontraditional Student Union: a student-run organization dedicated to connecting these students to resources as well as each other.
“I can't say I connected with too many other undergrads that were outside of the Nontraditional Student Union, but when I got to meet other parents in the same situation as me, that's when I found my people,” she said. “I think that finding that community was imperative for me to feel accepted on campus.”
Barrick, 36, moved her family from southern california to Eugene to pursue a bachelor's degree after getting an associate’s degree at her local community college. Along with her 11-year-old son, she also has two stepsons, aged 21 and 20.
When all UO classes moved online due to COVID-19, Barrick was home with her son, helping him navigate fifth grade on Zoom. He suffers from test anxiety and had an especially hard time adjusting to taking exams at home with none of his classmates around, she said. She sometimes needed to miss class to be there to support him.
Barrick took online classes while studying for her associate’s degree, but it’s been a lot more difficult with a child at home, she said. She never gets the chance to turn off her “mom brain” and focus on her work. When her son is somewhere else, under someone else’s supervision, it’s easier to get work done, she said.
“Once you start reading and writing it's like you can't get on a roll because you’re getting interrupted all the time like: ‘Mom, I need help. Mom, I need to snack. Mom, I need to go to my friend's house,’” she said.
Barrick currently serves as co-director of the Nontraditional Student Union and works to connect student parents with resources for success. She also works with Maria Kalnbach, coordinator of nontraditional and veteran student success, who leads the Dean of Students-run Nontraditional Student program to plan events and help connect students to one another.
“If you're a student, parent or a nontraditional student that needs to work, study and be a parent, you're balancing and juggling a lot of things,” Kalnbach said. “We try to help them figure out how to manage all of that stuff without getting into too much stress.”
During spring term, NSP worked alongside the UO Women’s Center and University Housing on a children’s clothing swap, an annual event that was held for the first time since the pandemic started. Each year, NSP collaborates with the Student Rec Center to host a family recreation day during winter term. It’s also brought in the tutoring center to teach students about speed reading and time management, as well as the counseling center to talk about mental health resources at the university.
Moss Street Children’s Center, located at the south edge of campus, serves families with parents who either study or work at UO, with first priority given to students. At the start of the pandemic, the center closed until resuming limited in-person sessions in August. While shut down, it still offered virtual resources for parents, the center’s director Becky Lamoureux said.
“It’s great that we’re able to be open because even though there are a lot of safety protocols to be followed,” she said. “We love seeing how much the children are getting out of being here and how much appreciation the parents have for us being open.”
Barrick said that she and her peers feel that the university does a good job of offering support to students with children, but there is always room for improvement. Many student parents would benefit from having a wider range of online classes year round, and having the ability to bring their children into buildings like the EMU, she said.
“I know that there are a lot of parents that have smaller children, and there's no way they can get to use our printing resources or to talk to anybody on campus without being able to bring our kids into the EMU,” she said.
Barrick is six classes away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. Her son is now going to school in person for four hours each day, and she looks forward to the day when his classes are back to normal.