By Nicole Kleinsteuber
By 9 a.m. Michael Clark has already accomplished more than the average college student could ever think of.
Getting three young daughters between the ages of one and five up and ready to go in the morning is demanding and often hectic.
“I wake up every day at 6 a.m. feed the girls breakfast, make Josie and Madison’s lunches, then we all get ready for the day,” said Clark.
But Clark’s busy morning doesn’t stop there. He packs up the girls and drives 15 minutes into Belleville, to pick up his babysitter then drives back home to Stirling, drops everyone off before heading to school.
“It is hard work being a single full-time father, when you throw college into the mix it’s even harder,” said Michael Clark. “I try to take it day by day.”
Clark isn’t alone in his adventure to manage kids and classes.
Loyalist counsellor, Rebecca Lazar said a large percentage of the student body are single parents or parents returning to college for upgrading.
Clark said he chose to return to school because he wants a better life for him and his girls. Clark is in the radiobroadcasting program and is starting up an online radio station called Quinte Online Radio.
“I want a successful career so I can afford nice things, like cars for my girls when they turn 16,” said Clark. “I know I have a future in radio broadcasting and it will financially support my goals.”
Sometimes a series of unexpected events can alter Clark’s day and stand in the way of his goals.
On Wednesday his babysitter called and said she couldn’t watch his youngest daughter Alexis.
“It was a little stressful because I had a class at 10 a.m. and a meeting afterwards,” said Clark. “But for the most part my teachers are very understanding. “They realize that I’m a single parent and stuff does come up.”
To make up for the lost time Clark stayed at the college late to work on his projects.
“I’ll try my hardest to keep on top of my schoolwork,” said Clark. “But my girls come first. “I’ll do whatever it takes to provide for them and make sure they’re taken care of.”
“Their situation is more unique than to a younger student,” said Lazar. “They have more juggling that needs to happen.”
Clark has to juggle more than just his own studies.
“I have my courseload to manage plus I have the girls’ homework to deal with too,” said Clark.
Aside from the stress of parenting and school, Clark is fighting to keep his girls with him in a dispute over custody.
“It was rough in the beginning. People said I was going to fail or drop out, but I didn’t,” said Clark.
Clark said his marks weren’t the best when his girls first came to live with him, but everything has turned around and he’s doing much better this year.
“Some of the best students we have on campus are the mature students, and parents,” said Lazar. “They excel once they figure out the time management piece.”
Lazar said for single parents finding the time to study is a major problem.
“When my girls are sleeping that’s when I do my homework,” said Clark. “That’s when it’s less chaotic.”
Clark said a steady schedule and time management skills are important in keeping his school and family life running smoothly.
“Josie, Madison and I usually get home from school around the same time,” said Clark. “We enjoy a little bit of time together, I take the babysitter home, have dinner then its right down to homework and then bed time.”
Jennifer deGroot, manager of Loyalist College’s Early Childhood Education Centre, said she has the upmost respect for singe parents attending college.
“Single parents have many challenges when they’re enrolled in classes,” said deGroot. “Often young children don’t understand that Mom or Dad has homework, so parents have to do it after the kids go to bed.”
“Having a school schedule posted some place visible like the fridge allows the other family members to see where mom and dad are during the day,” said Lazar. We advise students to mark time in the evening and weekend for homework and studying on the schedule.”
“My girls are used to me working late at the school,” said Clark. “I make sure they know daddy is at school so we can have a better future.”
Lazar said financial security is one of the many stresses parents face while enrolled in school.
“Trying to manage childcare as well as their living expenses can be very expensive for them,” said Lazar. “It’s more stressful for single parents because they are the sole parent who is trying to manage everything financially.”
“It’s been really stressful managing my finances because the recent strike delayed my OSAP,” said Clark. “I can’t afford my parking pass. I get tickets for parking in the student parking lot.”
Clark said he’s thankful that he has such a close relationship with his mom because she’s able to help him out with the girls.
Lazar said Loyalist offers single-parent groups to help with financial problems, time management, stress, exams and family issues.
“It’s a chance for parents to come together and connect to share stories and help each other out,” said Lazar. “Loyalist also helps parents out with child care if there’s an emergency, connecting them to our good food box program.”
“It’s a part of our job as well to make their lives a little easier,” said Lazar.