By Ebony Cox
Angel Shoemake, 25, of Bowling Green was not always a single parent and didn’t always attend Western Kentucky University.
Shoemake, a Russellville native, went to a private liberal arts school from 2010-2011 in Georgetown, Kentucky to pursue her education degree. After her first year, she didn’t love it.
“It felt like high school again, felt like I wasn’t growing into the person I needed to be,” she said.
She attended WKU and became pregnant with her son in her second year with her boyfriend of three years. Halfway through her pregnancy, she found out her baby was high risk, and she moved to Cincinnati in 2013.
“He had a lot of health problems,” she said. “He had a club arm, cleft palate, tracheal agenesis, tetralogy of fallot and urethra bladder obstruction. He lived for two minutes, he wasn’t supposed to live at all, so I’m grateful for that.”
In July 2013, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she found her purpose in life and re-enrolled in school in the sonography program. After losing a child, she wanted to work with high-risk pregnancies. While pursuing this, she got pregnant again. Her daughter, Audrey Pastor, is now 2 years old.
After a stint in Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, she re-enrolled at WKU. She will graduate this May with her bachelor’s of science in health and social welfare while getting a “jump start” on her master’s program.
“It’s so hard being a single mom,” Shoemake said, gazing into her daughter’s big blue eyes. “I am a sole provider for a human and myself. Being in school full-time, working, homework and life outside of school, I just keep telling myself it’s going to be worth it. I will be able to provide for her the way I want to, so she can grow up in a house.”
Shoemake is a part of the Jump Program at WKU allowing her to take her one undergraduate class and filling the rest with her masters in order to get a head start.
“This program has really allowed me to save time and money. I only had one undergraduate class and would’ve wasted a bunch of time and money taking random classes. Now I can work towards my masters while still being in undergrad,” Shoemake said. She is in the public health master’s program and hopes to work with women, infants and children.
According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the number of single mothers in college more than doubled in the 12 school years between 1999 and 2012.
Shoemake believes it is easier to go to college as a single mom now because there are more online opportunities and opportunities like Scholar House.
The Scholar House facility has 56 units. In order to occupy one of the living spaces, the individuals must be 18 years or older, a high school graduate or have a GED, enrolled full-time in the post-secondary educational facility, eligible for the local Section 8 rental assistance housing voucher and be able to work or volunteer 20 hour per week to receive Child Development Assistance.
Shoemake said that single moms want to do better not only for themselves but also for their children.
Brittany Edwards, 28, of Bowling Green said her two children Brooklyn, 3, and Zane, 7, helped turn her life around for the better.
Edwards battled with addictions in the past but now wants to use her past to help others’ futures. She is taking classes at SKYCTC where she is majoring in psychology with a minor in substance abuse counseling in hopes of becoming a therapist.
“The reason I want to be a therapist is because I’ve had past addictions, I’ve been raised in it and most of my family and friends have been through it, too,” she said.
Edwards will be graduating in May like Shoemake. She will be getting her first degree with her associate of arts, however, Edwards will graduate again in August with her associate of science degree. She will then graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in substance abuse counseling in 2021 en route to obtaining her masters. She will be a student of Western through joint admissions.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research four in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.
Edwards feels as though the support from places like Bowling Green Scholar House, where in order to have a place to live you have to be a student, gives women the opportunity to keep going when times get hard while being a single mother and going to school. “A lot of women are doing it for their children, if you are bettering yourself then your children will, too. When you work on campus, you might as well go. A lot of jobs are getting stricter on wanting to have a degree,” she said.
Scholar House is an income-based living area for mothers with children who are full-time students.
“The community at BGSH is based on single women with support. A lot of the women go through the same things and that is how they connected,” Edwards said.
Rita Garrett, 59, of Bowling Green has been working as a receptionist for the Bowling Green Scholar House Child Care for five years and believes it is so beneficial to women.
“It gives women the opportunity to go to school and their kids to be around other kids. It is like a big happy family over here. Love is given to the kids and the parents know when they go to school their babies will be taken care of,” she said.
Scholar House is where Shoemaker and Edwards both met, their kids love each other and they are very good friends.
“Shoemake was the first person I hit it off with,” she said, recounting how Shoemake offered her pizza the first night she arrived and let her borrow a hair dryer. She added later: “It meant a lot, she did not have to ask if we had supper or let me use her blow dryer.”
Different support groups make it easier to get through school and makes you work harder, Edwards said.
According to a fact sheet by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, there are 4.8 million students who are raising dependent children. It states that women are disproportionately likely to be balancing college and parenthood, many without a support of a spouse or partner. Women make up 71 percent of all student parents. Roughly 2 million students of the total student parent population are single mothers. Single student fathers make up 11 percent of the student parent population.
Stacy Smith, 36, of Bowling Green, has three children, Thomas Watkins, 13, Alison Watkins, 15, and Gabriel Watkins, 4.
Smith was in a 17-year marriage that wasn’t good, she said. “We married really young and didn’t get along. It got really bad, and I just had to get out of there,” she said.
According to the a verywellfamily.com article based on census data, 44.2 percent of single mothers are currently divorced or separated.
Smith decided to return to school to further her education. Smith was a Certified Nursing Assistant for 12 years and worked odd jobs but still didn’t have enough money to provide for her family.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I want to be able to take care of my kids and don’t have to depend on anyone else. I want to be able to provide the best to my ability. Without an education, you don’t get paid enough and that is what it boils down to. You really need an education to have money. I guess you could work in a factory or something.”
Like the other women, Smith will graduate in May, too, but from SKYCTC.
“It is a relief,” she said.
Smith and daughter, Alison, have always had a close relationship. Alison’s eyes were opened when she had to take care of a fake baby for health class.
“Having this baby made me realize how hard it is being a mom and she’s done it for 16 years. I’ve done it for a day. It makes me appreciate her more. I know since she’s started school, she’s been through a lot and I know it is all for us,” Alison said as tears rolled down her mother’s cheeks.
As the oldest, she has had to grow up a lot. “She takes care of her brothers and babysits a lot. I depend on her a lot to help me,” Smith says while crying.