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Parents' program is put in spotlight

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has planned an advertising campaign to promote a program at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) that encourages current and expecting parents to pursue their college educations.

PHCC’s Pregnant and Parenting Peer Liaison (3PL) program will be highlighted in a series of ads by the health department, according to a news release. PHCC is one of six colleges participating in the Virginia Community College System’s 3PL Program, which is funded by a grant through the VDH.

The 3PL program aims to “strengthen the academic achievement of pregnant and parenting students,” the release said, resulting in “an increase in the rates of retention, graduation, transfer to four year institutions and/or attainment of a workforce credential.”

The 3PL program is open to male and female students at PHCC, including those in the Dual Enrollment program, who are pregnant or currently raising children aged 5 or younger.

Jan Harrison, coordinator of the 3PL program at PHCC, said the health department originally geared the grant to serve students aged 18 to 29, but she has seen students who are older. She could not readily say how many students she has served.

“I even have a grandmother who has custody of her 5-month-old grandbaby who has received referrals through the program,” she said.

Harrison, a former social worker with the Department of Social Services, said a goal of 3PL is to direct pregnant or parenting students to the services and assistance they need to complete their education. One key service, she said, is counseling, whether to explain available resources or merely to act as “a sounding board” for students, she said.

“When students are under a lot of stress, they need someone to talk to,” she said. “If they are a student and their spouse is pregnant, or they have small children at home,” that is a strain on them.

Harrison, who has a degree in counseling, said she can direct those who need more assistance to Piedmont Community Services or another organization if necessary.

School counselor Lois Collier also serves as an intermediary for students who need guidance. According to the release, the program seeks to help students by connecting them with “educational services, health services, social services and counseling or support services for sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.”

Collier said she hasn’t seen many students who have had issues with violence or stalking in the 3PL program. Social services and counseling — especially for financial issues — is a bigger need, she said.

“If you have people with young children, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with bills and trying to make ends meet” and trying to keep a household going, she said.

Often, Collier said, she and Harrison will refer students to one another, share sources and decide what community resources are available to recommend to students.

Financially, she said, they aim to help nontraditional students “figure out better ways to help them handle their finances,” she said.

With pregnant students, Harrison said, tutoring assistance often is key, and she stressed that there are tutors available for every area of PHCC’s curriculum. Other areas of assistance include helping make sure classwork gets to pregnant parents and back to instructors should a student deliver a child during the semester, she said.

Since time management might be a barrier for some students, that is discussed in the counseling process, Harrison said.

Child care is an issue they try to help address for those needing it. PHCC’s early childhood development program students have to work lab hours, so sometimes they can make referrals from student to student, with one student providing supervision for another’s children, allowing both to meet coursework needs simultaneously.

“That’s something I just started this semester, and it’s been very successful,” Harrison said.

Collier said they try to understand the needs of each student, and that each student has different obstacles to overcome.

“For younger students, it’s more about where they want to go or how to structure their college experience,” she said, and for older or parenting students, “for a lot of them, school is like a whole new avenue.”

The students want better for themselves and their children, and the people at 3PL program are there to provide services to help them overcome the obstacles, Collier said.

Harrison pointed out that students who are enrolled in the 3PL program for the spring semester can make an appointment now to learn what services are available to them.


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