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A student and toddler dressed in maroon and gold on Northrop Plaza, with green grass of the mall in the background. The child is wearing a fur Goldy Gopher costume under her T-shirt.

Aerial, held by her aunt, Rachel, dressed up as a little Goldy Gopher on Student Parent Visiblity Day May 1. Aerial is the daughter of Stephanie Xiong.

For the next generation

Student-parent resources are now Twin Cities campuswide and reaching out to create access for teen parents

By Bob San

Brief, May 9, 2007

Kristin Morris was just starting college at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities when she found out she was pregnant. But she decided to stay in school.

"That's the best decision I ever made," says Morris.

With the support of her family and the Student Parent HELP Center, Morris excelled. She made the dean's list every semester and was admitted to the graduate school. Next year, she will complete her master's degree in human resource development.

Last week, Morris shared her story with about 100 high school teen parents at the University's second Student Parent Visibility Day, an event sponsored by the Student Parent HELP Center (SPHC) and the Student Parent Association (SPA).

More than 1,000 undergraduate student-parents are registered with the SPHC. The center provides services that encourage and support student-parent success at the U. It offers a warm, academically oriented facility where parents can study and develop community with other students facing the challenges and rewards that parenting offers. Assistance can include postsecondary childcare grants, private childcare grand, emergency funds, as well as counseling and advocacy for personal, academic, and family issues.

Last year, the Student Parent HELP Center moved from General College to the Office for Student Affairs. "Being part of OSA means that people [can] assume we are campuswide," says director Susan Warfield.

Under a blue sky and bright sunshine, SPHC and SPA representatives recognized U of M student parents for contributions they have made to the University and their commitment to securing a better future for their children.

The U of M student-parents also paired up with teen parents from three Twin Cities alternative high schools to discuss selecting a college major and career selection.

"We have more teen parents here than last year," Morris said. "They are very interested, and that makes us feel good....We can offer tips to stay motivated and set goals--'After you graduate from high school, go to college and do the best you can.'"

This year's event was bigger than last year's, and organizers were pleased with the outcome.

"It feels good to know that I was able to help some teen parents who are interested in college and answer some of their questions," said another member of the SPA, Krystle Klosterman.

Thanks to the presence of role models such as Morris and Klosterman, many high school parents left with a good understanding that, even though they have children, there are options beyond high school.

"I want to be at this event," Morris said. "I want to tell the teen parents that 'I am nobody special. I am the same person as you are. If I can do it, you can do it, too.'"

From a college to campuswide

Last year, the Student Parent HELP Center moved from General College to the Office for Student Affairs. Director Susan Warfield says the transfer and expanded scope has been a boon to visibility.

"Being part of OSA means that people assume we are campuswide, which is what we are," says Warfield.

The SPHC developed gradually, but it has served as a national model for delivering comprehensive services to students with children for more than 40 years. Warfield frequently gets calls from other universities seeking help in starting programs.

Several years ago, when she did a Google search for student-parent programs, only a handful of sites came up. Now there's a long list of universities with such programs. Non-traditional students--including students with children--are projected to become a major source of income in higher education, Warfield says, and universities are creating programs to try to meet their needs. But many existing student-parent programs are extensions of human resources departments that also serve faculty and staff.

SPHC is staffed by licensed social workers and currently serves about 350 of the 1,000 identified undergraduate student-parents at the Twin Cities campus. The total number of student-parents is much higher if graduate students are included.

Three years ago, with Warfield's guidance, student-parents founded the campus Student Parent Association to serve as a support and advocacy group for both undergraduate and graduate students with children. SPA organizes regular activities and acts as a collective voice on issues surrounding the everyday lives of student-parents.

Warfield expects the number of student-parents using the center will continue to increase as it gains more visibility on campus. Student Parent Visibility Day is part of that effort.

Some student-parents stopped by and said they didn't know the U had such a program.

"It shows the campus that we exist, we have kids, and we are in college," said SPA member Zer Xiong.