One Monday morning, a dirty-blonde haired, brown-eyed student seamlessly weaved the early student traffic, gliding from the Lake Street meters to her 8 a.m. class.
Tammy Garton, the 26-year-old human-development/family-studies junior, looks like a typical student, but the single-mother of three children, balancing 17 credits while raising her family, is anything but.
On a typical Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, Garton is awake by 5:30 a.m. in her parent’s house near the foothills. Her Tuesdays and Thursdays start a little later, allowing an extra hour of sleep.
Before she wakes Jolee, 6, Hayla, 5, and Caleb, 3, at 6:45 a.m. she will have already done a load of laundry which piles up “nearly every day.” When the children awake with reluctant grimaces and yawns, Garton’s day of invariable multitasking begins.
Garton dresses Caleb, while convincing Hayla it’s too cold for a skirt. She serves all three cereal with a glass of “plain milk” while making Jolee’s PB&J lunch. She combs Hayla’s hair while teaching Jolee that a quarter and a dime from her purse make the $ .35 for milk money. When Caleb manages to make his first mess of the day squeezing toothpaste all over the bathroom, she guides him through the clean-up. Then she helps Caleb with his jacket and hat while helping Hayla look for her missing glove.
And she has all three buckled in their car seats in the old Buick by 7:30 a.m., ready for pre-school and kindergarten.
While most students’ days begin to get complicated by the time they get to their first class, when Garton gets to her 8 a.m. class, it’s her first quiet moment of the day.
“Most amazing students on campus”
Jan Rastall, assistant director of Resources for Adult Learners, has seen many single-mother students in her four and a half years working with nontraditional students.
Typically, a nontraditional student is considered one age 23 and older, but Rastall said that a broader view includes any type of student who does not go straight from high school to the university.
Rastall said at least 339 single-parent students attend CSU.
College is often the only avenue available for single parents to raise their families, she said.
“For what’s available out there right now at entry level jobs, it’s virtually impossible for single-mothers to make it,” Rastall said.
A single parent with one child in Larimer County has to make at least $14.20 an hour to survive. A single parent in Larimer County with three children, like Garton, must earn $25.35 an hour to achieve self-sufficiency — that is $53,537 in annual income. Having witnessed single parent struggles on a daily basis over the years, Rastall said she has come to admire the character of CSU single-mothers.
“They, I think, are some of the most amazing people on campus because they have so many barriers they have to overcome to be here from scheduling to child care to feeding and bathing and care and entertainment — it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility,” Rastall said. “And for them to do that and be a student and meet all the academic requirements is absolutely amazing. I can’t even imagine it. They’re just trying to better their lives so their children have better lives.”
For single-mothers the Adult Resources for Student Learners office in the Lory Student Center offers one-on-one counseling, guidance to child care resources, single-parent support groups — which meet once a week on Wednesday mornings, and free tickets for children to athletic events.
Single Mothers in
While the number of single-mothers on campus may be hard to quantify, recent studies of census surveys have shown that between 2000 and 2005, single-mother households in Fort Collins have increased 63 percent and 47 percent in Larimer County.
Project Self-Sufficiency, a local program designed to guide single parents to self-sufficiency, can attest to the sudden trend.
Michelle Scheetz, a PS-S advisor, said that in recent years the surge of single parents in Fort Collins has strained the program. During the last few years, the waiting list for aid in Fort Collins has been six months to a year.
“I’ve worked here for years and never have we had a waiting list like we have now,” Scheetz said. “It just feels very overwhelming. There’s probably 60 single-parents who need help now but they have to wait.”
Mary Carraher, PS-S director said nobody knows why there has been a surge in single-mother households, though she guesses it may have to do with economics.
“We don’t really know why our waiting list is so long in Fort Collins or why the poverty figures and number of single parents are up,” Carraher said. “We just see the people lining up for services.”
First Semester CSU
Although when Garton first applied for PS-S services three years ago, she said she didn’t have to wait for more than a few months.
For Garton, this is her second time at CSU. She first attended the university as a traditional student after graduating from Poudre High School in 1999.
After a semester of poor grades, she dropped out. In 2001, she and her high school sweetheart had their first child. They had another in 2002. In 2003, they married.
Then, in 2004 Garton was abandoned by her husband before their third child was born.
In 2005, Garton decided that going back to school was her only choice.
“I went back to school because I had to take control of my future, and it wasn’t just my future,” Garton said. “It was their future as well, being able to support them and give them the life that I wanted to.”
Garton graduated from Front Range Community College and is now back at CSU for the first time since 1999, but this time she has 3.7 GPA.
But she hasn’t done it alone. She has two scholarships from PS-S and living at her parents’ house she gets plenty of help.
“I have it easier than a lot of other single-mothers,” Garton said. “I live with my parents and I don’t have to work.”
Lizzy Creissen, a 31-year-old sophomore microbiology major, is one CSU single-mother doing it virtually on her own. After moving from New Mexico and attending various community colleges, this is her first semester at CSU.
“I went back to college to make our life, her life better,” Creissen said.
Creissen and her 8-year-old daughter live together in an apartment in Loveland. To get by, Creissen works three jobs: catering, baby-sitting and telecommunications. All three jobs offer her flexibility, so that when she’s not at school she works.
“When I get home I try to be a normal parent,” Creissen said. “I don’t do any homework until my daughter’s in bed.”
For Garton, it’s a similar situation. She said she tries to do homework after her classes, during the day but usually to no avail.
When she gets home from classes her mother will have picked up her two youngest from pre-school. As Garton opens the door she’s greeted by a chorus of “mommy, mommy, mommy.”
From that point on she spends the day helping the kids do chores, reading to them, helping Jolee with homework, cooking, cleaning and constantly heeding to the three children competing for motherly attention.
And even though she doesn’t get to eat her first bite of food until after 1 p.m. and doesn’t get any homework done until after 9 p.m. when the kids are finally in bed, she said it’s all worth it.
“By 9 p.m. I’m ready to be done, I’m so exhausted .,” Garton said. “I think a lot of people think it’s really hard but you adjust to it because you have to . And what makes it all worth it is when I get home and the kids run up and give me hugs.”
Creissen echoed Garton’s sentiment. She said that when she first started at CSU she had a preconception of a “jock-like Animal House” atmosphere. But when a student she stereotyped as a jock befriended her in one of her classes she changed her mind.
“People think, ‘I’m a single parent, life must be so hard.'” Creissen said. “But you think of typical students going out drinking, a time when younger kids are finding out who they are. And I can’t imagine what it’s like to party and go to school, I have all my drinking years behind me.”
Staff writer Tim Maddocks can be reached at email@example.com.