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Child’s future motivates working mother/student
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Tina Street shares a happy moment with her 2-year-old daughter Ka'Miah Johnson. Street works full-time and goes to the New College Institute four nights a week in addition to caring for her daughter. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Like many mothers, Tina Street knows what it means to sacrifice for her child.

Street works full-time at a call center in Martinsville, and then she attends classes at the New College Institute four nights a week. She’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Virginia Commonwealth University.

She does all that while caring for a 2-year-old. And she does all that because she wants to provide a good future for her child.

“My day starts at 7 in the morning and ends about 1 or 2 in the morning,” said Street, 23, of Martinsville.

On top of class meetings, she said she usually has to do her course work late at night while her daughter Ka’Miah sleeps.

Ka’Miah was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder or group of disorders that can affect brain and nervous-system functions. She was born at only 25 weeks and weighed just one pound, 1.6 ounces. She has holes in her brain that inhibit her nervous system function.

“Her mind is developed like any 2-year-old’s,” Street said, “but everything physical, we have to teach.”

At times, Ka’Miah has had as many as eight different doctors for everything from physical and speech therapy to gastrointestinal problems, Street said. She has to take her to Roanoke and Salem twice a week for Ka’Miah’s medical care, and she does 20 to 30 stretching exercises two to three times a day to help her muscles loosen up and to help her learn physical skills.

“Her mind tells her to do it, but she can’t,” Street said.

Doctors don’t know how independent Ka’Miah will be, but she can sit up, feed herself and stand with help, which is more than some thought she would be able to do, her mother said.

“All those things, (we were told) that it would be a miracle for her to do it,” she said.

With all she has on her plate, Street is not always available to help with her daughter’s exercises and other needs. She mainly sees Ka’Miah in the mornings, and her mother and Ka’Miah’s father, Michael Johnson, look after her while Street is at work or in class. When she gets home from NCI at night, Ka’Miah is asleep.

“It is very hard; I feel really guilty,” Street said. She has considered working less, she said, but doesn’t, because “my job is amazing” and officials there work with her as much as possible.

Street, who earned a general studies degree from Patrick Henry Community College in 2011 and a legal assistant associate degree from PHCC in 2012, has not considered dropping out of college. She views her studies as too important to stop.

“She (Ka’Miah) needs me, but I also need to provide for her, but what am I supposed to do?” she asked.

After she earns her bachelor’s degree from VCU in the spring of 2015, Street plans to attend law school and become an attorney.

Patricia Grant, faculty-in-residence for the criminal justice program at NCI, calls Street “the epitome of motivated, tenacious young lady. I just think she’s wonderful.”

Grant, who knows what it’s like to raise children while studying for a degree, said it’s difficult enough to pursue an education for someone with no children, let alone as a single mother of a special-needs child.

“We generally say you’re going to spend three to four hours (a week) outside of class for every one of those classes,” she said. “For a student with no outside commitments, that’s a lot of work on its own. I’ve had students who have had no additional pressures who have not been able to succeed like (Street) has done.”

Grant encourages Street as often as possible as the stress of her busy schedule has been difficult to handle at times.

“She was getting a little overwhelmed at one point,” Grant said. So Grant shared her own story of being a mother/student to help encourage her. “I think that made her feel a whole lot better,” she said.

“She just needs someone to believe in her, and I do. There are other students I worry about, but not her,” Grant added.

Street said she currently has a 3.5 grade-point average at VCU. When she finishes her studies, she wants to work as a defense attorney for juveniles. She studied the topic in one of Grant’s classes and developed a passion for it. She said she wants to help at-risk children get out of the legal system rather than simply move from the juvenile court to adult prisons.

“Attorneys can be counselors as well,” she said. “I believe if you get to a child early enough, most children can change if they have a role model to look up to.”

Both Grant and Street said Street’s motivation comes from the desire to provide a better life for her child, something that is even more important for someone born with a disability.

“Looking at my child fighting for her life time and time again — she fought her way into the world,” Street said. “I’m gong to do whatever it takes ... to make this the best world I can for her.”


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