A Balancing Act

By Christina Chapman

Jen Muncey sits awkwardly on her 2-year-old daughter Gabby’s Dora the Explorer couch as Gabby conquers climbing her Playskool brand art easel to reach the mountaintop of her mother’s shoulders.

As she climbs down her mother to the center of their tiny University Apartment living room floor, she lies on her back staring up at her mother.

Covering her eyes with her hand as though it made her invisible, but still peeking through her index and middle fingers, she asks, “Where’s Gabby?” in an attempt to play peek-a-boo.

Jen is a 27-year-old junior English major seeking her teaching certificate as a single mother in her second semester at NIU.

Jen is one of many students at NIU who are taking care of their children and taking a full load of classes.

NIU has no statistics on the amount of students with children at NIU, said Christine Welch, administrative assistant in the Provost office, but the Campus Child Care Center has 110 children, about 70 percent of which belong to students, said Assistant Director Lisa Schmidt.

“Student families are our priority,” she said. “Our mission of the center is to serve students – that is why CCC exists.

“CCC is a part of the student affairs – one of many departments at NIU with the purpose to enhance the lives of the students on this campus and make their total learning experience a positive one.”

Based on surveys given by The Center for Black Studies about two years ago, Director LaVerne Gyant said she estimates about 30 percent of the students are parents, she said.

Gabby is one of the 110 children who attend CCC, which has made it possible for Jen to take on a full load of classes without ever having to take Gabby along with her.

NIU does not have a university-wide policy on students bringing their children to class and has not had a request for one. But the individual colleges may decide to have their own policies, Welch said.

None of NIU’s six colleges has a policy on children in the classroom, according to a poll. Most colleges leave it up to the individual professors.

Assistant geology professor Kathy Kitts actually outlines it in her syllabus for her classes under “professionalism.”

It states: “In cases of an emergency, children may be allowed to stay in the classroom, but at the first disturbance to the class, the child and parent will be required to leave. This course is not to be used as day care.”

Kitts put the line in her syllabus based on past experiences and to forewarn students.

After the first disturbance, the parent is to get up with the child and go out, because people are paying tuition to be in that room, she said.

Other professors take less formal approaches.

English assistant professor Alexandra Bennett has dealt with children in her classes five out of the six semesters she has been at NIU.

“Provided that the children aren’t disruptive, I have no problem with that,” she said.

“In fact, I respect the fact that the students take their jobs as students seriously enough to make the extra effort to come to my class with their kids, if necessary, so that they don’t miss out on their education and they can do what they need to do as parents,” Bennett said.

To keep her two daughters, Ashley, 6, and Danielle, 8, from being disruptive on the occasion she has to bring them to class, single mother Crystal Keys, a 35-year-old junior special education major, brings coloring books to keep them occupied.

“We have a rule, there’s no talking,” Crystal said.

“They actually learned something, especially Ashley. She could tell me one of the causes of the Civil War was slavery, I was like, ‘You were paying attention,’” she said.

The College of Health and Human Sciences is the only college that has considered making a policy.

“There is no rigid policy, but we highly discourage it,” said Shirley Richmond, dean at the College of Health and Human Sciences.

“We talked of having a policy because depending on the situation, it can be disrupting to the class and parent,” she said. Currently there is no policy being developed.

Finding a sitter or a supportive professor isn’t always the hardest part of being a student parent.

“Kids are very unexpected. You can’t be selfish anymore,” said Cheronda Everett, a 21-year-old junior pre-elementary education major.

“You don’t know when they’re going to be sick or clingy. They could fall and hurt themselves – they’re just very unexpected,” she said as her 2 year-old daughter Chyann sang “Five Five Five,” with Elmo on television and crawled into the cabinet under the television as to get closer to Elmo.

Both Jen and Cheronda credit their membership to the College Parents Group in keeping them motivated.

“CPG is a support group for NIU and the surrounding community that helps you get affiliated with the town, school, resources and other people who are in the same situation as you,” CPG President Shameka Hill said.

CPG provides key resources for extra help, such as finding doctors or available jobs, Cheronda, also vice president of CPG, said.

“The CPG helped me find people who knew about resources that I needed and I made friends. Gabby had the chance to meet friends too,” Jen said.

The CPG meets every other Tuesday at the University Resources for Women. For more information, call Shameka Hill at 753-1142.