Making the transition from high school to college is often a challenging experience. Caring for a baby while going to school can make the task seem impossible. But Sherrill Mosee sees more young single mothers meeting that challenge and succeeding. In her book, Professor, May I Bring My Baby to Class? she explains reasons for an uptick in the numbers of teenage mothers.
Mosee's mother struggled to support her family
Sherrill Mosee was raised by a single mother who was forced to give up her dream of going to college.
"My mother was a teenage mother, at the age of 16, with my older brother," Mosee says. "She worked really hard while she was in high school to go to college. She was accepted at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. When she showed the [college acceptance] letter to her mother, my grandmother, looked at her and said, 'You're not going anywhere. Your college education is standing right in front of you,' talking about my brother," Mosee says.
It wasn't easy for a young, single mother with only a high school education to provide for her family.
"It was a struggle," she says. "I mean she just didn't have the financial means to care for us. We were always trying to make it; health care was an issue, buying food, the basic needs to care for her children," Mosee adds.
Stepdaughter's pregnancy hits home
One of the lessons Mosee learned early on was the value of an education. She went to college and earned a Master's degree in electrical engineering. Three days after graduation, she gave birth to her first child.
But when her stepdaughter became pregnant during her first year in college, the overwhelming impact of teen pregnancy on students really hit home for Mosee.
"For years, there was a decline in teen pregnancy, I believe between 1991 and about 2005," she says. "Then in 2006, there was this sharp increase. So there were almost about half a million teens who become pregnant in the United States [that year]. Statistics tell us that less than half, about 40 percent, [of teenage mothers] will graduate high school. So, when you think about that, without an education they are unable to care for their family," she calculates.
Mosee helped her stepdaughter complete her education, and made it her mission to help other teen mothers stay in school, graduate and pursue their college dreams. In 1998, she created Family Care Solutions, a non-profit group that helps low-income single women pay for childcare so they can attend school.
Mosee interviewed single mothers who attend college
In her new book, Professor, May I Bring my Baby to Class? Mosee recounts real stories of young women who have been able to succeed as single mothers and fulltime college students.
"There is one young mother who became pregnant at the age of 14. Her mother was a teenage mother, as well as her grandmother, so you can see the cycle of teen pregnancy," she says. "But she was a bright young lady. When she was ready to graduate high school, she got a scholarship to go to the local university. [She] graduated within three years. We helped her pay for her childcare while she was in school. She decided that she wanted to go to law school and she went to law school after graduating. That's just one example of the many stories in the book," Mosee says.
Talia Barrows, 32, is a mother of two, who graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia.
"It was a complete balancing act," Barrows, now a dance teacher, says. "Sometimes I had to prioritize family over schoolwork without falling behind, but I somehow did it," she adds.
Barrows didn't have family support to help her through her challenging college years, so she found help in other places.
"I relied a lot on school loans," she says. "I did receive a scholarship from Family Care Solutions, which helped me tremendously. It paid for my daughter's daycare expenses. I did have other challenges because my daughter does have cerebral palsy and epilepsy. You definitely will need more childcare than most parents or most mothers. It's definitely a necessity since there is not someone else there to help you with your kids. Fraternity and sororities on campus do have toy drives for mothers like me. So, for a couple of years, I was very grateful to receive toys for my kids for Christmas," Barrows says.
Tiffany Stevens graduated and became a teacher
Tiffany Stevens was 19 when she got pregnant. But instead of taking her son to college with her, she left him with her mother in Philadelphia.
"I was in Richmond, Virginia, and my son was about 250 miles away, in Philadelphia with my mom," she says. "For me, I think it was more difficult because I dealt with the guilt of missing my child, having him so far away, then always trying to get home on the weekends to see him, as well as keeping up with school and remaining active," Stevens says.
Stevens graduated from the University of Richmond and now works as an eighth-grade teacher.
Flexible childcare helped De'Asia Davis earn her degree
De'Asia Davis, 23, graduated from Ohio State University last summer with a degree in sociology. She was already in college when she got pregnant with her daughter, Arica, now two years old. Davis says childcare was the major issue for all student moms she met on campus.
"I was part of a group called Access Collaborative," she explains. "Access actually helped us with childcare. There were about 50 of us, and we had weekly meetings and discussed different things that we would need for our children, like life insurance or child support. It was definitely helpful," Davis says.
Getting her college degree, Davis says, made her struggle worthwhile. And she feels proud that she was able to do it.
"Sometimes you can feel defeated when you have to study for a test and your baby is crying or something else is going on," she says. "And a couple of times I did have to E-mail my professor and say, 'Hey, can I bring my daughter to class?' One time I had a midterm or something coming up, and I really, really, really needed to be in class to study for that and my professor was fine with it. We just sat in the back of the class; she had snacks. She was actually pretty quiet. I thought she would be talking and making noise, but she was fine," Davis recalls.
Mosee says that for the young women in her book, their children provided the motivation for them to struggle and succeed. With more colleges and universities across the country now offering childcare programs on campus, she hopes other teen mothers get the message that having a baby is no excuse to quit school.