Graphic by Dakota Cox

COVID-19 hits student parents with a hurricane of obligation

Humboldt State students with children carry the weight of multiple educations this semester
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Humboldt State students with children carry the weight of multiple educations this semester

Carrie Tully is a single mother in the graduate program at Humboldt State University. Having completed all of her course work in the spring, Tully holds down two jobs and assists in her daughter’s education while completing her own graduate thesis.

“I haven’t been doing very much thesis work at all,” Tully said. “Things are really not going as according to what I thought my plan was gonna be when I entered grad-school.”

Tully’s daughter attended preschool last year through HSU’s Children Center. This year, she’s attending Fuente Nueva Charter School where all of her instruction is online.

“It’s hard for her, it’s hard for me, of course. Children her age need socialization and that’s mainly what they are supposed to be doing in school right now,” Tully said. “It’s really nearly impossible for them to do that via Zoom.”

Beyond her daughter’s quality of education, Tully is stressed about her daughter’s emotional education suffering.

“I don’t have the financial or mental ability to be able to be 100 percent present for her all the time,” Tully said. “That’s the hardest part. She needs attention, I need space to do good work and it clashes.”

Between Tully’s two jobs, her thesis project and playing a leadership role in HSU’s food sovereignty lab project, she spends the majority of her day in Zoom meetings. After a full day, Tully has little energy to give her daughter and she is usually greeted with an explosion of a mess.

“Cars, toys, cards, books, stuffed animals everywhere,” Tully said. “That’s when parents have mini panic attacks. Like, I’ve been on Zoom all day long and I just need to take a break and sit down but I can’t because my couch is covered in stuff.”

Tully said the lack of personal space in constantly being around each other also proves challenging at times.

“Just like any relationship,” Tully said. “You need to be able to be apart in order to really appreciate that love.”

Between managing work and her daughter’s progress in school, Tully has had to sacrifice a great deal of time she originally planned to spend on her thesis.

“To me, the most important thing that I need to be focused on right now is my child’s education,” Tully said. “Because I’m in my mid thirties and I have my education. I have my career things that I’m working on. I can go with the flow.”

Carrie Tully’s daughter Kallie Gregg attends kindergarten virtually from her room this semester. | Photo by Carrie Tully

Sayde Mendes is a business major and mother of three children, ages 2, 9, and 11. Thanks to the transition to online classes, on top of parenting responsibilities and pursuing her own education, Mendes has to provide an education for her children.

“No matter how much teachers try and how much they do,” Mendes said. “There’s still quite a hefty reliance upon parents.”

In her senior year of high school, Mendes was date raped and suffered a brain injury when she was rehydrated too rapidly at the hospital. The injury caused her to lose control of her motor skills and forced her to relearn all functions virtually. Mendes also suffers an intellectual disability, impairing her power to both pursue her own education and her childrens’.

Mendes’ husband spends the majority of his waking hours at work, leaving her with little time and energy to complete her own responsibilities like work, school and providing for her children.

“I feel like I have to kind of push them away sometimes, because I need to be present for my class,” Mendes said.

While HSU only offers tutoring to students and not their children, the Childcare Center continues offering its services to student parents five days a week at approximately 50 percent capacity to meet COVID-19 protocols.

Grants are available to students whose incomes qualify for reduced or no cost for childcare, through California’s Early Head Start program.

According to Director Steve St. Onge, the most challenging part of operating during the pandemic is keeping the children in line with regulations.

“I gotta tell you, having a 2 and 3 year old wear masks is not easy,” Onge said.

Onge’s daughter attends kindergarten two days a week for two hours, leaving him as the majority role in his child’s education this year.

“I think I would speak for many of us parents of children in school that are also working,” Onge said. “Our days start earlier and end later. We’re still getting the job done, it’s just taking us a lot longer to do it.”

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