by Terry Birdsall
photography by Lauren Wooding
It is 10 o’clock at night on Oct. 17. It is quiet at the La Verne police station; no one is in the lobby, and only one inmate is in jail. This is unusual. Since the terrorist attacks on the trade centers, the station has been extremely busy with different kinds of calls caused by fear and panic. Most of the calls have to do with concerns about the deadly “Anthrax” powder. Some are valid, others are not.
Lieutenant Rick Aragon, a tall authoritative figure in his late 40s, with a mustache and brown eyes, appears in the lobby wearing a bulletproof vest and dressed in a police uniform. His office has security monitors and a master CB radio that allow him, as shift watch commander, to keep an eye on the cells and to listen to a radio for calls dispatched by officers in the field. Aragon points to the calendar on the wall as he explains the two shifts; the night shift hours are 12 hours for three consecutive days and an extra day every three weeks, rotated every three months. When Aragon works the night shift, he doesn’t see his family much, because he’s sleeping while they are in school. “When I get home on Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m., I wake up at 10 a.m. so I can spend time with my family,” he explains.
Finding balance between work, home and school can be an overwhelming challenge for students who are parents. Patti Noreen, executive director of the College Accelerated Program for Adults (CAPA) professional center says that many people return to college to attain a job promotion, make a career change, finish a degree or simply for personal enhancement. The flexible schedules available through CAPA are accommodating for students like Rick Aragon with rigid work schedules. “We have a variety of options available for firefighters and law enforcement officers, and there are a lot of them in our program,” says Noreen.
CAPA support services help students select courses that won’t conflict with their jobs and get them into classes that are full or find other classes to fit their schedule. Once they are registered students, they can take up to seven years to complete their degree, but most finish sooner.
Started as a pilot program with two people in the early 1970s, CAPA has since grown considerably. According to Noreen, 815 students enrolled in CAPA this fall, and 215 students graduated in the spring of 2001, making it one of the largest graduating classes ever.
Rick and wife Liz, a registered nurse, have been married for more than 20 years, with two teenage daughters, Jenny, 18, and Jaime, 14. Three of the family members are in college. Rick and his wife both attend the University of La Verne, and daughter Jenny is a freshman at Cal State San Bernardino. Their youngest daughter Jamie is a cheerleader in high school. “It’s tough, because we both have jobs that demand time,” he says. Liz is working on her master’s degree, and is continually encouraging and supporting her husband to finish. “We have lots of ties to the school; we were married in the chapel at La Verne before we ever attended school at ULV,” smiles Rick.
Family time is precious and few, given the extensive hours on the job and in school. Teamwork is required to get all the household chores done. Aragon is majoring in organizational management, taking his third online course at ULV this semester. He admits he gets stuck on the computer and sometimes needs help from his 14 year-old daughter Jamie.
He says his daughter Jenny’s enthusiasm motivates him. Jenny has known what she wanted to be since she was a little girl – a high school English teacher. “I know it sounds kind of corny,” says Aragon. “My goal is to be a substitute teacher for my daughter’s classes.” He’s been on the police force for 25 years, nearing retirement in four years. He says he’s ready for a new career. “I’ve enjoyed being a police officer; now I’m ready for a new challenge.” Over the years, Aragon continued taking classes toward his degree in organizational management. He decided to get more serious about attaining his degree when he saw promotions around the corner. He says he was lucky to be promoted to lieutenant because the position required a bachelor’s degree. Another reason for finishing is that “I’m bound and determined to get my bachelor’s degree before my daughter; she’s not going to beat me,” he says with a parent’s smile spreading across his face.
Of course, everyone knows the best way to get an education would be to start fresh out of high school before taking a full-time job or starting a family. Many struggle through life trying to make it work with skills learned on the job and a high school education. Others take the extra step to attain their dreams by returning to college.
CAPA student Wendy Uzarski, 41, starts her day at 8 a.m., when she drops off her 9-year-old son Nick at school. He “is the center of my universe,” she says. Uzarski attends ULV four days a week and works as a Color Guard Instructor for Upland and Rancho Cucamonga High School two days a week. Rehearsal lasts four hours, then a staff meeting goes for one hour before she returns home at 10:30 p.m., when she undertakes homework and finally goes to bed about 2 a.m. “I wanted to ride the bus with my kids to competition,” says Uzarski. “You have to have teacher credentials to ride the bus.” First, she’ll finish her bachelor’s degree in art, and then work on her teaching credentials and finally a master’s degree in education. Her goal is to be a credentialed teacher so she can be closer to the children and be home with her son. “I can have my cake and eat it too,” she laughs.
Although her husband John of 13 years works for Boeing and travels frequently, he is supportive and manages their home life. “When he’s out-of-town, it makes it difficult,” she says. There is no family close by to help with child care. Uzarski sees the sacrifices she makes to go to to school as setting an example for her son. “I hope my son will see this as something you should do sooner in life.”
Uzarski says returning to school is something she always wanted to do; the first time she saw ULV, she loved it. “I said this is where I’m going to go; this is where I’ll be successful.” She attributes most of her success to CAPA. “They’re part of the reason I’m going to graduate in May.” After having a bad experience at a larger university, she appreciates the personal service and attention CAPA provides. There has never been a time when she was uninformed, and she raves about her counselor “Ingrid.” There is always someone to help. “CAPA is a one-stop-shop; students can take care of everything here with the exception of financial aid,” says Noreen, “we really guide the student from beginning to end.”Uzarski also likes the small community environment where the professors know you by name and understand the student’s life better. She says “larger schools tend to be less personal with so many students; you’re just a number.” Her life is definitely full of activities and responsibilities, and at times she can get overwhelmed until she remembers what a high school teacher once told her: “Concentrate on what you’re doing now — you know . . . focus,” she says.
Traditional students may have been in school or started school before life was in session. Some allow life to decide their destiny. Others do not allow life to get in the way of their goals. They simply prod on no matter what obstacles come their way, steering the course with determination, dedication and a whole lot of family support to reach their goals.
Jeanette Sanchez, 20, was in her third year of college at ULV when she found out she was pregnant. “My first reaction as soon as the doctor told me: I started crying,” she explains. “I knew my parents would think I wouldn’t graduate.” Sanchez has worked long and hard to be the first in her family to graduate from college. “I don’t see my baby as a burden or being in the way of accomplishing my goal,” she says. Sanchez plans to take January off after the baby is born, and her mom will help her take care of the baby until she graduates in May.
Finishing college was never a question for her. “It’s different for everybody; a lot of girls are doing it,” says Sanchez, about getting pregnant and finishing school. Although she admits her biggest concern about starting the fall semester is what people would think when she returned. Some people stare and wonder who the father is. “I’ve been lucky,” she says with a smile on her face, as she explains that her family, friends and boyfriend Joaquin, 25, are all supportive. She says even her professor Sharon Davis, Ph.D., professor of sociology, was encouraging when she realized that Sanchez was pregnant.
She is currently taking 14 units, majoring in sociology with a minor in criminology. Her plans are to work with child protective services when she graduates in May. The classes she takes have inspired her to “want to make a difference in someone’s life,” says Sanchez. She has witnessed the effects of abuse on children first hand with her aunt who has adopted four children from a mother who was on drugs.
Sanchez works 11 hours a week with the Corona/Norco Unified School District administering state mandated English testing for elementary, junior high and high school students where she tests the English level to see how students and the schools are doing. She says, “People see that I work, go to school, and I’m pregnant; I kind of see it as an opportunity to inspire others.”
In addition to her job, she performs work-study 11 hours a week for the International Student Center. Sanchez helps students with the difficult task of finding housing when they are new to the country. Her job is to make people to feel at home as well as take care of office duties. She has met many people and even made friends with some of the international students.
Although Sanchez has a full schedule, she didn’t want to give up anything. She was vice president of the Latino Student Forum when she found out she was pregnant. Her dedication and commitment shows through in her desire to succeed. “I wasn’t going to let my club down,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I love it.”
Sanchez currently lives on campus and commutes from Corona. “I’m going to graduate with my baby in one arm and my degree in the other,” she says with a big smile on her face. She sees Joaquin on weekends and sometimes on Wednesdays as well as talking to him every day on the phone. They used to have a roller-coaster relationship, but now they have a baby to look forward to with plans to marry on their six-year anniversary, Oct. 26, 2002.
The turn in her life only seems to inspire her to do better. “I used to be a procrastinator, but when I heard the baby can learn from within, I read out loud so both of us are taking advantage of the education,” says Sanchez. Her positive attitude and friendly smile makes a person want to strive for more. “If I can do it, a lot of people can do it,” she says. “I would hope people wouldn’t use pregnancy as an excuse to give up.”
Many couples are willing to make sacrifices to realize their dreams in life. Arica and Jeremy T. Hinthorne (J.T.), both 22, were married on July 14, 2001, and are high school sweethearts with a 2 1/2 year-old son Jeremy. Having a child early did not stop them from achieving their education. “We’re not the typical couple; nothing gets in our way,” says Arica. “We get a lot of help from our parents.” They own their own home and were given a housekeeper as a wedding present.
Arica attends ULV full-time, working toward her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts to become a teacher. The rest of her day is spent with her son and running errands. She believes she was born to be a mother. However, “education is everything to her parents” so they encouraged her to go to college. She wanted to be an educated person to set a good example for her son.
On the other hand, J.T. has his bachelor’s degree in business administration and is working toward his law degree to become a corporate lawyer. He works at Circuit City 20 hours a week and studies from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Arica will take a teaching job when she graduates in May so he can concentrate on his studies. “I always wanted to be a lawyer,” says J.T. “I’m pushing myself because I want to give more to my son.” He says just seeing his son Jeremy when the going gets tough inspires him.
J.T. is used to the finer things in life. Coming from educated parents, he remembers what it was like growing up when his dad was going to school and working full-time. His mother returned to school later. The example set by his parents makes him willing to sacrifice now to be a good provider for his family.
Communication is the key to their relationship. They are both easygoing and say they live a good life. “I’ve learned that five minutes talking about your day is better than a lot of time together,” says J.T. They talk every night even if it’s only for a five minutes generally to share what they did or learned that day. Sometimes they go over their homework together. J.T. says their lifestyle is similar to two professionals working full-time jobs.
The road to success is not easy for anyone. It takes determination, dedication and a willingness to make sacrifices. Overcoming obstacles and persevering to accomplish goals can help people realize their dreams no matter what circumstances occur in life. Family support and communication seem to be helpful elements to attaining life goals.