It was May of 2014. While other students were focused on finals and summer vacation, Arelli Abalos — 18 years old at the time — had something bigger to think about: her pregnancy.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4.8 million college students nationwide are raising children and 1.1 million of those students attend four-year institutions like Cal Poly.
The resident advisers in Yosemite Hall told Abalos she couldn’t have the baby in the residence hall and wanted to know her plans after having the child. But at that point, she didn’t have any.
She faced a major decision, alone, away from her family and husband in Sacramento.
That was never the plan.
“It was a lot of pressure and it was kind of stressful to have to get out as fast as possible or figure out what to do,” Abalos said.
After much deliberation, she decided to leave Cal Poly.
Immediately after delivering her son Adrian and being dispatched from the hospital, she headed back to Yosemite Hall. She packed up her things and returned to her family in Sacramento.
Life and priorities after pregnancy
After Abalos left, she tried to complete her last quarter at Cal Poly. She emailed professors about her situation and asked if there was any way she could finish her finals. Many were accommodating, but in the end, she was too busy raising Adrian to focus on school.
Abalos failed that quarter, but it was not the end for her. She went to American River Community College and transferred as an ethnic studies major to Sacramento State where she will graduate with her peers at the end of the semester. She wants to attend graduate school for psychology and eventually become a high school counselor.
“People ask me, ‘How do you do it? You’re a superwoman,’” Abalos said.
Even super women face challenges. Abalos’s greatest feat is finding time to do schoolwork outside of school. For example, when she needs to schedule time to work on group projects, she must work around her son’s schedule.
“When I’m not in school, my time is for family,” Abalos said.
That’s how 31-year-old child development senior and single mother Melinda Radsliff spends her time as well — when she’s not in school, she’s with her daughter.
Video by Peter Gonzalez
“On the weekends, I spend all day with my daughter because I don’t get to spend much time with her over the week,” Radsliff said.
Radsliff’s schedule is a little different than most students and other student-parents in relationships.
Every morning, Radsliff brushes her hair and teeth and gets dressed and prepped for the day like every other college student. However, she has to do everything twice – once for herself and once for her three-year-old daughter, Evelyn.
Graphic by Madison Agatha-Mancebo
Radsliff then drops Evelyn off at the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Children’s Center while she attends classes and studies on campus. She does most of her work on campus before she has to pick up Evelyn so that when she’s home, she can be with her.
“I want to say she’s the best child ever and I know that sounds biased because I’m her mother but it’s honestly true,” Radsliff said.
Evelyn is just one of the 125 children served at the ASI Children’s Center. Most who attend belong to student parents and the rest are children of faculty and staff. Student-parents have priority enrollment.
The ASI Children’s Center provides meals and educational programs for infants and toddlers. Student-parents can receive the services for a discount or completely free, depending on their income level.
Director of Children’s Programs at ASI Tonya Iversen, said the program can be a huge relief for student-parents.
“These parents are trying to do it all and it makes things a little more difficult, but when they [the children] are here, everything is calm and their needs are met,” Iversen said.
Graphic by Madison Agatha-Mancebo
With her daughter being tended to at the ASI Children’s Center, what is Radsliff’s biggest challenge? Financial support. There’s a lot of stress that comes from being a full-time student and single mother.
Finding the balance
According to psychology professor Elizabeth Barrett, the biggest stressor for single parents is trying to meet the physical and emotional needs of their children. They struggle to balance their time and responsibilities.
“Ultimately, both stories go back to this idea in our culture of how much time we have to do all these things, or that we somehow should be able to do all these things,” Barrett said. “We carry the burden of our perceived failures when the failure is really the expectations of what a human can do in the course of 24 hours is unrealistic.”
Thirty-two-year-old psychology senior and married mother of two Hallelujah Adams admits finding this balance between school and family life is becoming increasingly more difficult. But she has a supportive husband at home to help.
“I don’t think I could do it without his support,” Adams said.
Adams strives for that balance and knows that if she prioritizes her schoolwork, her family will benefit in the long run. So, she keeps herself organized by having her academic life clearly scheduled at least two weeks in advance and spends about 70 percent of her day studying.
“School for me is my thing and that takes so much time already that all the other stuff just kind of goes to the bottom,” Adams said.
Adams has been on the Dean’s List every quarter since transferring to Cal Poly from Cuesta and has made the President’s list once, something that’s important to her as she applies for Cal Poly’s master’s program in psychology.
Her academic success is also important for the rest of her family. Last year, Adam’s nine-year-old daughter wrote her a Mother’s Day card that read:
“Happy Mother’s Day, mom. You’re the best. Thanks for going to school to make more money for our family.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misnamed Melinda Radsliff as Melinda Radcliff. Her name has been corrected.