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Moms Make College Work for Them

July 25, 2014
By BETSY BETHEL - Associate Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Two local moms are doing what it takes to make college work for them now, believing it will pay off for their families in the long run.

Mom of four children ages 2-10, Jamie O'Hare of Wheeling began taking online classes toward a special education teaching certification from Wheeling Jesuit University in August 2012. She already had a teaching degree but wanted the additional training in part because she suspected for years that her oldest son had special needs.

She completed 25 hours of coursework in 18 months, earning a 4.0 grade point average. While taking classes and doing site visits, O'Hare and her husband tag-teamed watching the children.

Article Photos

Photo by Betsy Bethel
Rebecca Antley of Wheeling poses at home with her children Zoe, 3 and Max, 18 months. At age 22, she is a single mom working on a bachelor’s degree with a goal of getting a Master of Social Work degree and working in a school system or Child Protective Services.

"We've been able to high-five out the door a number of times. The kids loved it - (they say) 'It's a switch-off day!'" O'Hare said. Her husband, Dan, is a theology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University. His flexible schedule and willingness to help run the household has aided his wife's success.

"We have a general understanding that if something needs to be done, and you're the one who's home, you do it. If it's the afternoon and you're the one home, you should probably start dinner," Jamie O'Hare said.

She stays organized using bins and binders for her schoolwork and keeping it all in one place. When her sons were in school and daughter Ella was in day care, she could study while her youngest daughter, Ella, napped. She studied after the kids were in bed, too. The couple also have implemented a system in which the children are allowed to use tablets, computers or TV only after completing specific chores, a system which has helped them keep a handle on the housework.

Jamie O'Hare said she has started two master's degree programs in the past, but they did not fit in with her family's needs. This mostly online program - she had one physical class plus school observations -has worked out well, despite an unexpected development that led to her homeschooling for most of the time she was enrolled.

Just one month after starting her program, she brought her oldest son, Ian, home from public school because things weren't working out for him there. A month after that, she decided to homeschool her second oldest, Aidan, as well.

"So I went from having two kids at home and thinking I could easily do this program to having four kids at home," O'Hare said.

The boys re-enrolled in a different public school in January, where things are going much better, she said. With Mara in universal pre-kindergarten at Holy Family Child Care Center in Wheeling last spring, O'Hare took on the additional challenge of teaching composition at Wheeling Jesuit.

"I loved doing it, but I don't love doing it with four kids and a husband."

One of the immediate benefits O'Hare has reaped from her special education coursework is validation of her suspicions about Ian's development.

"It led directly to an autism diagnosis for Ian," she said. Upon placing him back in school in January, O'Hare felt confident when working on his Individual Education Plan with his teachers. Without her training, she would have been "scared to death," she said. "It gave me a lot more certainty in what I was asking for."

O'Hare is studying two hours a day for the Praxis II exam to become a certified special education teacher. Her goal is to work full or part time so she can be available to drop off and pick up her children from school and be home and help them with homework in the afternoons.

Rebecca Antley of Wheeling is a single mother who started working on an associate's degree at West Virginia Northern Community College when her daughter, Zoe, was 5 months old, and received her diploma two weeks before son Max was born. A few weeks later, she started classes in the Bachelor of Social Work program at Ohio University Eastern Campus in St. Clairsville. Max was only 11 days old.

"He actually came to class with me until he was 3 or 3 1/2 months old," Antley said. She wore him in a wrap, nursed him and changed him in the student lounge.

She couldn't do it without helpful, understanding instructors and her parents, who live in Warwood and help watch the kids.

"Day care is expensive," Antley said. After three straight years of school, including summers, she took the spring and summer off and, after two friends approached her about needing care, started a day care in her home in East Wheeling. She can watch up to four other little ones along with her two, who are now 3 1/2 and 18 months.

Antley, 22, said college was always a goal for her, although she wasn't sure "when or where or how." She graduated from Wheeling Park High School a semester early, then a month later found out she was pregnant with Zoe.

"When I had Zoe, I realized it was now or never. As soon as she was old enough to stay with her grandparents, I enrolled (in WVNCC)," she said. Her ex-husband has been helpful off and on, but for the most part she has been on her own.

She starts classes again at OUE in August and isn't sure if she'll be able to continue her child care business, but she is hoping to make it work. She has two years to go before earning a bachelor's degree, and her plan is to get a Master of Social Work. She wants to work in the school system or for Child Protective Services.

In addition to working 50-60 hours a week and raising two kids, she volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and in her church's nursery.

Finding the time to study is a challenge, but she said she learned to take excellent notes and use a highlighter to study. She reads before and after her classes, and has been known to make flash cards and quiz herself while her children play. She has even read her textbooks out loud to them.

"Most of it is written so blandly, they really don't have any sense of what's going on anyway."

Antley said she is dedicated to doing what is necessary to succeed for her children's sake. She doesn't go out, rarely hangs out with friends and never takes a day off.

"That's OK. Because in the long run, to support my kids, I have to go to school. I don't think I'm suffering, and I don't think they're suffering from all that's going on."

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