Helping Students Stay the Course
Brittany is a single mom who grew up in poverty and always wanted more for her family. She worked two part time jobs, remembers the feeling of standing in the homeless shelter line with her own Mom , and decided she wanted a better life for her and her child – so again was determined to gain her college degree. She had signed up for community college in the past, but it seemed like every time she found a good rhythm, something would derail her. Maybe her child became ill causing her to miss work so she had to divert money from tuition to rent and medical bills. Or her car would need to be repaired and that meant that the money for next semester would be put to a different use. It seemed like no matter what she did, she couldn’t catch a break. The constant financial strain was emotional and also hurting her relationship with her child, just like how Brittany had experienced with her mom.
She was soon referred to the Stay the Course® (STC) program and was partnered with her case manager, Joe. Through this year-round program, that serves low-income, working-poor students who are attending Columbus State Community College, the goal is to increase community college persistence and completion and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.
This is done through a combination of individual personal support (mentoring, coaching, referrals, etc.) and strategic (non- academic) emergency financial assistance from a CSS case manager. Students work with their case manager to identify their individualized Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-Based (SMART) goals as well as recognize detrimental behaviors, and learn how to balance money, the stressors of work, parenting, classes, lack of childcare, and so on. Students also learn how to utilize opportunities and plan things in ways that allow them to succeed in the program. This helps leverage the student’s strengths to overcome barriers and challenges and build up their own confidence along the way.
With his help, Brittany began to notice that internal factors were causing her financial problems in combination with the external ones. For instance, growing up in poverty herself, she never learned how to plan a grocery list for the week and always just ate out. When she learned to make a budget, she saw how much she was saving by planning meals, shopping, and cooking. She also learned that when she became stressed, her anxiety would cause her to make poor decisions and not allocate time properly for different tasks. This would lead to a spiral of things not getting done, including her homework, and just create a deeper feeling of hopelessness.
Brittany told us that the reason that keeps her going is that she doesn’t want her daughter to experience the feeling of homelessness. “When I met with Joe, he told me I could do this,” she said. “But now I am starting to believe him.”
As she spent more time with Joe, she learned how to better recognize triggers and how to deal with them when they arose. When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit she did lose her two part time jobs but continues to safely meet with her case manager, and together they are figuring out this new normal. Pre-Pandemic Brittany reached a milestone goal – she purchased her own washer and dryer! Something she never had growing up. But, the accomplishment that she is most proud of is seeing an improved relationship with her child.
To break free from poverty, you need to address it at the root cause. By meeting our clients where they are, together working on a plan to obtain their goals, and showing them the tools and resources that they can use to reach their inherent potential, they are taking another step towards sustainability and strengthening our community.