Teen parent mentoring program helps students juggle family, college

Kim Brown

Freshman year of college for most Kent State students involves adapting to new surroundings, meeting new people and developing new study habits. But for many students, college does not include having a child and raising a family while working toward a degree.

To help teach high school students juggle both college and family, Upward Bound PREP Academy hosted Teen Parent College Mentoring Day Friday in the Kiva.

This was the ninth year for the event, which drew in about 60 local high school students. The event included speeches by sophomore nursing major Felicia Mercado, Cleveland Brown’s Joshua Cribbs, Maria Cribbs and state representative Kathleen Chandler.

Bonnie Richardson-Berry, assistant director of Teen Parent College Mentoring Day and Upward Bound, said the program was for those students unsure about college life and family.

“It is being hosted to support teen parents in Northeast Ohio who are students with the desire for knowledge or thought they might want to attend college but have found themselves as teen parents.”

She said the purpose was to introduce students to the college experience with the necessary resources, information and motivation to succeed.

The event started with an introduction and welcoming by Upward Bound’s Geraldine Hayes Nelson, associate dean of undergraduate studies, and Kent area chapter of the Links’ Margaret Payne.

“Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever love,” Payne said. She explained that the economic benefits of a college education for teen parents and using available resources to work through the process.

She said it is important to educate students about bridging the transition from high school to college as a student and parent.

“We’ve been involved because once you educate a parent, you educate a family,” Payne said. “They’ve been so surprised and stressed about becoming a parent that they haven’t really been able to think about what comes next.”

She said college is stressful for a normal student, but having a child and being a student requires different kinds of support and programs.

Rep. Chandler spoke about the necessary support to succeed.

“Moving forward doesn’t mean it’s an easy trip,” she said. “It means you’ll make some successes, you have some failures along the way, but you’ll pick yourself up and you’ll keep going and you’ll work towards the goal.”

She said the most important thing is to have people around to help students succeed and celebrated the continued success and positive effects of Kent State’s Upward Bound.

Maria Cribbs, wife of former Kent State quarterback and current Cleveland Brown’s player Joshua Cribbs, explained the challenge of taking care of her child while supporting herself and working toward her goals. She got married and had a child during her freshman year at Kent State and graduated with a degree in journalism in 2005.

“I struggled when I was here, but for some reason I was better than I ever was,” she said. “As parents out there, no one understands what you’re going through. You know what you’re going through, and other women around you and people with children know what you’re going through, and that’s what you need to stick with.”

She said she learned to live her life for her daughter and was forced to mature at a young age. She said she was unsure how she would take care of a child as well as herself, but college kept her determined and focused.

Her husband gave credit to his wife as his motivation and his “driving force.”

“Being a father at Kent State was hard. You had to get things done. You live for your child. You discover your identity,” he said.

He said he was closed-minded before college, and getting married and having a child allowed him to grow up and mature on a different level. He said success is built on reaching goals and said it is important to experience diversity and motivation in college to find direction.

“I found the necessary tools to make it happen,” Joshua said. “Take that adventure and see what it’s all about.”

The program continued with Portage county job and family services representatives with information about child care, health care, food stamps, transportation and Medicaid assistance and information.

The event and program was also sponsored by pre-college and TRIO programs and community partners and businesses.

Contact student affairs reporter Kim Brown at [email protected].