Student parents balance busy lives, strive for increased resources on campus

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( Darylese Shook / Daily Titan )
Shayna La Scala (left) and Junely Merwin (right) work together to help student parents navigate the difficulties of juggling classes and life at home.

At 29 years old, Shayna La Scala is a single mother of two boys and a first-generation college student at CSUF.

“I got here because I pushed,” La Scala said. “I don’t intend on stopping.”

Before attending CSUF, La Scala struggled in community college not knowing about financial aid, school loans or what kind of classes to take. She couldn’t grasp the complexities of college and had to figure it out on her own by reading and going to counseling appointments.

At one point, she said she was going to school and working four jobs to pay for her apartment.

“The emphasis wasn’t on school, it was on working and I’ve always worked. There is a recipe to student life and I didn’t have that recipe down yet. I was still not adding enough of the ingredients, definitely not doing the cooking part right. I was not putting any work into it,” La Scala said.

Now that she and her sons live with her grandparents, La Scala said she is able to balance being a parent and a student. This gives her the opportunity to be a part of student activities, including being involved in clubs and organizations.  

As a student parent, La Scala said she brings her kids to whatever she can on campus.

“I don’t want them to be intimidated by campus and I want them to have that feeling like they belong because that’s not something I felt as a first-generation college student,” La Scala said.

La Scala is majoring in human services and is a part of the McNair Scholars, a program that prepares underrepresented students for doctoral studies. She will be applying to doctoral programs in fall of 2017 in hopes of eventually becoming a professor.  

CSUF student Junely Merwin, 22, is a single mother and former foster youth. Merwin said she was taken from a “dysfunctional” home and placed in foster care with her son and siblings when she was 15 years old.

“I didn’t trust people, and you could see that I was very vulnerable,” Merwin said.

Mara Ziegler, a USC professor and senior social worker, was her advocate while in foster care.

“[Ziegler] saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” Merwin said.

Merwin said Ziegler helped her become more outspoken and more involved. Merwin started doing volunteer work that supported teen parents and foster care.

“That was kind of my new beginning because it really forced me to grow up. It forced me to really prioritize my decisions because at the end of the day, it’s just me and my son and there is no one else that is going to do it but me,” Merwin said.

She decided to apply for CSUF Guardian Scholars, a program designed to help students exiting the foster care system and entering university.  

Merwin said she felt a huge sense of accomplishment when she was granted a full-ride scholarship from Guardian Scholars to attend CSUF. She earned her spot in the program and got a job with CSUF President Mildred Garcia’s office before her first semester started.

Her transition to CSUF was difficult but with the help of Guardian Scholars, Merwin felt more at ease.

“Any support that you can ask for, [Guardian Scholars] had it, but when it comes to the parenting end, they are still catching up to speed on how to best support us,” Merwin said.

While taking a human services course on how to cater to a community, Merwin focused on student parents and the support they have on campus. She said she realized in her research that there was really no support on campus.

That’s when Merwin connected with Chalea Forgues, coordinator for the Adult Reentry Center. She expressed what she would like to see as a student parent and was granted an internship that would focus on student parents.

“Many parenting students that I speak with feel disconnected. They don’t feel as involved and a large part of it is our responsibility,” Merwin said.

She reached out to fellow student parent La Scala and asked if she wanted to be involved in helping bring more resources to parents on campus.

“That automatically was going to develop my passion for this, so I was like, ‘Yes, we’re bringing more resources. I would love that,’” La Scala said.

This semester La Scala and Merwin came up with a parenting workshop series, intended to provide a place student parents can come to and feel connected. Workshops include stress, mindful parenting and building parent-child relationships.

The two said they also discussed a possible idea of making a group in which student parents can come together and feel connected and speak about whatever they like in an office or space specifically for them.

“We knew that was a big cake to take and so we just wanted to take a piece of it this semester to try and wet our feet and see what we can do, and that’s how we came up with the workshops,” La Scala said.

Their goal is to go outside of human services and reach out to other colleges about the workshop.

“If we can impact at least one parenting student, then we are doing our jobs,” Merwin said.

The next parenting workshop will be held Wednesday in UH 205 at 12 p.m. with Melanie Mallers discussing stress.

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