Solving the equation

Theresa Edwards

Sophomore Salem student balances motherhood, school

Marisa Beagle, sophomore history major, and her daughter, Noelle, sit in the parking lot of the Salem Campus, where she attends school 45 minutes away from her home in East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania border. Marisa and Noelle, 18 months, live with M

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Algebra is difficult enough for many students who don’t have a child to watch after. But for Marisa Beagle, having a child running around makes it that much harder.

“Having someone running around and screaming is hard when you’re trying to solve for ‘x’ when you don’t really understand it in the first place,” said the 21-year-old sophomore history major at the Salem campus.

For this reason, Beagle tries to schedule an hour of study time between two classes she has Monday through Thursday. She said she still studies at home, but it’s more difficult to concentrate.

This is the most difficult part of having a child while in school, she said: Making time to be with Noelle, her 18-month-old daughter, most of the day.

But she said it’s a rewarding experience seeing her daughter grow up.

“It seems like it was just yesterday when she couldn’t even crawl, but now she can walk and gets into things that she shouldn’t get into,” Beagle said.

Her parents help her with Noelle a lot, and she said she’s glad for it.

Her father suspected she was pregnant before Marisa had said anything to her parents. He talked to her mother, and that’s when they approached her. At that point, she was about five months along, she said.

Her mom made her go to the gynecologist to get checked out, she said, and receive a confirmation that she was pregnant. She said she was surprised when her parents told her all that mattered was the health of her and her baby.

She had an agreement with her parents that she was allowed to live at home as long as she went to college after she had the baby, she said.

“I was scared more than anything,” Beagle said. “But I knew since I was living at home with my parents it would still be difficult going to college and having a child at the same time, but I wouldn’t have all the stresses of being out on my own.”

When she found out she was pregnant in March 2004, Beagle said she thought it would be enjoyable to play and have a daughter grow up where she was the influence. She said she wanted to see who Noelle looked like and who she acted like.

The father is no longer in the picture, and Beagle was not comfortable discussing the matter.

She said she was still in high school when she found out she was pregnant. Because it was the last six weeks of school, her teachers permitted her to work at home and take her assignments in once a week and also to complete her exams.

Noelle was born in July 2004, and Beagle started school that fall. For the first year, she said her parents were able to watch Noelle, but the next semester she had to hire a babysitter.

She looked to Debbie Zohnd, the high school secretary from Heartland Christian High School at the time.

Zohnd is a stay-at-home mom and lives in Columbiana with her five children who still live at home. Three of them are her biological children, and two are foster twins. She’s known Beagle and her family for about nine years.

“She was here one day; we were visiting, and I told her when she needed to go to school, if she needed a sitter to let me know,” Zohnd said.

She said she’s always liked kids and enjoys babysitting Noelle about 28 hours per week.

Zohnd said babysitting Noelle works out fine with her other children.

She said they either all play together, or they all fight together. Either way, they have their fun.

“We have music that we listen to, and we dance, but not when anyone else is around,” she said with a laugh. They also work on counting and sing songs together sometimes.

Beagle said Zohnd is the best person to watch her child because she’s seen her grow up as well.

“I trust her a lot, and she is a good caretaker,” she said.

The easy thing about going to college and having a child is she just came out of high school, she explained, so the transition wasn’t difficult. Only one thing made the transition a little hard.

“It was strange,” Beagle said, “because I now had someone fully dependent on me and needed me so much.”

Noelle is a talker too, she said, which is a relief because Beagle grew up with a speech impediment and had to go through speech therapy. She doesn’t talk in full sentences, but Beagle says she talks non-stop.

“I was very worried,” she said, “but when she was at the babbling stage, my mom and I both could see that she wouldn’t have the problems that I had. The muscles in my mouth weren’t fully developed, and hers are, I think, over-developed sometimes,” she said laughing.

Beagle said she’s never been a good student, but she’s doing a good job in college even with a child – except when Noelle interrupts her algebra study time.

“When I’m doing my homework,” she said, “I’ll turn away for one second, and she’s in something she shouldn’t be in. She gives me this look like ‘I didn’t do anything, Mom.'”

Contact features reporter Theresa Edwards at [email protected].