"TO MY STUDENT WHO IS ALSO A MOTHER"
Rohanna S. Delossantos
New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center
“To my student who is also a mother” is an open letter to the women who enrolled in the Credit Diploma Program at New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center during the summer of 2020 or the following fall, taking full advantage of online class offerings. The author reflects on what this group of mothers has meant to the school and to her own life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To My Student Who Is Also a Mother,
There are many things that we do not know about each other, such as the moments in life—big or small—that have brought both of us to this classroom. I can say, however, with great confidence, that we are prevailing because of the community we have built in the past 2 years. I write this with sincere gratitude.
Beginning in the summer of 2020, moms, aunties, caregivers, and grandmothers comprised the majority of students in my online classes. That March our district shut down indefinitely and classes became online only. You, the mothers, returned to school after 4 months of caring for children at home, supporting their learning throughout the day, securing Wi-Fi, and providing for their financial needs and meals. You returned to school because you wanted to help your children with homework, increase your family’s earnings, and lead by example.
The challenge of learning on new online platforms did not deter you from signing up for classes—or maybe it did, but you did it anyway. In fact, you saw this as an opportunity to reach a goal you had once put aside for the well-being of others.
I signed up to teach that summer because I needed structure. I needed to plan lessons and distract myself from fear. I needed to stimulate my mind in order to be more present for my 2-year-old son. I thank you for being kind to him, for greeting him, and asking him questions; for introducing your babies to my baby; for your smiles.
A cohort of women who began the Credit Diploma Program (CDP) at New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center during the summer of 2020 or the following fall when the program offered a full course load of online classes graduated with their diplomas this past June. We met in the auditorium of a local university. You wore blue robes and caps, bedazzled in jewels, flowers, or pictures of loved ones you lost in the past few years—whom you honor with this accomplishment. I could not wait to watch you walk across that stage and listen to
the cheers of your children.
My own mother finished her schooling in her 40s. She began her career as a social worker in the senior living facility where she worked in the kitchen. She punched out of her last shift the week before graduation, earned her bachelor’s degree on a Sunday, and walked in as a social worker on Tuesday. She waited until my baby sister started school to finish. I remember watching her study at night, sitting in front of her computer, sometimes with her hands on her head in frustration.
Let me reiterate what it is like to be the child of a woman who finishes school while raising her children. There is no greater example of hard work. Watch your mother graduate with
a diploma, whichever diploma that is, will guide your children for the rest of their lives. Mom did it, and so can I.
The pandemic has devastated our communities. The U.S. recently passed the grave milestone of 1 million COVID-19 deaths. Most of us love someone who has been affected by the
pandemic. Many of us have battled and continue to deal with sickness ourselves. We know, however, that mothering never stops and opportunity does not wait. You seized this moment. You signed up and showed up, taking 6 classes, 7 classes, and 8 classes. You submitted and revised the work. You tucked yourself into corners of your home where you could find the best internet and quiet space, or sometimes you placed yourself in the center of the apartment where you could still watch over the family. You did extra credit, and you showed up to office hours to check-in.
We often talked about class, and sometimes we also discussed our kids. When my son crawled onto my computer table, meowing like a cat, you meowed back. You gave me potty training tips, or better yet, coaching.
You taught our CDP program how to better serve mothers. We began offering online classes during the day and night, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. We learned ways to make our classes
interactive using Google platforms, Zoom whiteboards, NearPod, Padlet, Kahoot!, and more. Teachers became available by email, Google Classroom, and Google Voice numbers.
There were times when you needed to pause. Maybe it was a day. Maybe a week. You returned when you were ready. You caught up. You asked for help. You closed the computer when you needed a break. Success is not perfection. Success is making life work for us.
There were also times in these past 2 years that I leaned on you more than you know, for example, during the weeks my mother was quarantined in her home with COVID-19 and the 2
months I spent not seeing her. Your energy carried me through.
In the fall of 2021, our school returned to regular in-person daytime class offerings. For the first time in our program’s history, we began parallel online offerings with a full schedule of daytime and evening online classes. You leave behind a legacy in our school by teaching us the greatest lessons—that serving mothers is an investment worth structural change, that mothers deserve to be able to breastfeed their babies and learn, and that the mother who commits to learning can juggle what she chooses to juggle and that a mother will take her learning and plant it in her children so that not only she grows, but her children grow with her.
Thank you for your teachings. Thank you for making me a better teacher. I am proud to be a mother alongside you.
Rohanna S. Delossantos is a Social Studies teacher in the High School Credit Diploma Program at New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center in New Haven, Connecticut. She
is also the mother of a 4-year-old son. She may be reached at email@example.com.