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Mother of three beats odds as non-traditional student

 

Katie Perttunen/Daily Globe

BEKI FARRELL, a mother of three and full time student on GCC, peruses a catalog in a student lounge on campus on Friday. Farrell has made the dean’s list each of the six semesters she has attended school.

IRONWOOD — Back to school is a whole different ballgame for a student parent with three children in school.

Beki Farrell, 34, of Ironwood, started her sixth semester at Gogebic Community College this week. She has made the dean’s list every semester, and is transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Superior to pursue a degree in childhood counseling after this semester.

Farrell’s children are Niko, 15, Devon, 12, and Levi, 5. They go back to school next week. When Farrell first started at GCC, Niko helped her out with her math homework because it had been such a long time since she had taken a course.

“The kids are super excited that I am back in school. The two older ones ask about my homework and want to read my papers. Devon is already planning my graduation party, she’s so proud,” Farrell said.

“Niko is already planning to attend GCC for two years before transferring to a school in Florida to study video game and graphic design,” said Farrell.

Family comes first for Farrell, as she makes sure the kids get their homework done, and takes care of her other household responsibilities before making time to study. “The kids’ grades have gone up since I’ve been back in school. I want to show them how to strive,” Farrell said. “Niko is already studying graphic design on his own.”

Farrell’s boyfriend helps on the weekends, but during the week, he works in the evening, so can’t help much.

Farrell works on campus eight hours a week in addition to tutoring, but doesn’t have enough time to join student organizations.

Instructors have been very helpful, Farrell said, allowing her to bring her children to class if necessary, and even letting her son come with her to a final. Farrell’s advisor, Amanda Delich, has also been a great resource, Farrell said. “She’s always there to listen.

“I’m glad that I waited until I was older, and the kids were older, when I came back to school,” said Farrell. “I’m more persistent and my time management is better.”

Before attending GCC full time, Farrell attended “Lunch and Learn” events, one-day lectures on home-centered topics, to get her feet wet and ease her anxiety that she could be successful back in school. Farrell also made use of the TRIO program in the beginning, which has resources to assist 160 students per year, according to the GCC website.

At first, Farrell was concerned that the age difference between her and her peers might be awkward, but that fear was soon put to rest. “Everybody is really easygoing and nice here. I’ve made friends with my younger classmates.”

Farrell is beating the odds, according to statistics from Tiffany Boiman, senior outreach and policy associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington D.C.

Boiman said that 49.7 percent of students with children exit college without a degree, compared to only 31.1 percent of students without children, reflected by 2003 Department of Education data.

Farrell said that other parents thinking of going back to school should do it. “It’s worth it,” she said. “You might struggle at first, but if you have a strong support system, you can do it. Take it slow, and use advisors as a resource.

“Try and remember to take some time to yourself, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk,” Farrell continued. “It’s never too late.”