Riverland offers help for student-parents

Published 8:16 am Thursday, April 26, 2012

Riverland Community College students Anu Thawani, left, and Heather Stahl study together inside Riverland’s Parent Center Tuesday. -- Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

For Heather Stahl, the new Riverland Community College Parent Center is wonderful. As a Riverland student, another place to come in, study, relax and discuss student life issues is always welcome. As a parent, Stahl loves the support the Parent Center offers.

“I’m really excited about this,” Stahl said. “There’s so many things you deal with as a student-parent that it’s nice to have support.”

That’s the idea behind the latest student support at Riverland, according to Mindi Askelson, Riverland’s Director of Placement and K-12 School Relations.

Email newsletter signup

“A large portion of our students are parents,” said Askelson.

There are at least 650 student-parents who receive financial aid at Riverland, and even more student-parents who attend the college. That’s why Riverland secured a U.S. Department of Human Services grant to start a parent resource center in the school, one of maybe three or four colleges in the state to receive the same grant, according to Askelson.

The center, inside Riverland’s Austin West campus, acts as a place where student-parents can get support and advice from Riverland and Parent Resource Center staff. There’s support for any type of student-parent, including bilingual staff and an online class adviser for students who take Riverland classes online. In addition, center staff hope to provide training and seminars to students as soon as possible.

Riverland began planning last fall, hoping to open the center by the start of this semester. The project schedule took longer than anticipated, however, which is why Riverland officials delayed the opening to receive input from students on what services they need.

“I’m just really glad this opportunity’s here,” Stahl said. Stahl was part of the focus groups that met several months ago. All that student input had an effect, according to Askelson.

“We’re changing direction on what we’re doing with the parent center because of what students said,” Askelson said.

One of the center’s goals is to reach out to young male student-parents. While the Parent Center staff originally planned to separate the male student-parent center from the main room, students said the operations should overlap.

In addition, students will be able to earn free food, gas and school services by participating in Parent Center training. Students can earn points toward food, gas, and Riverland gift card rewards by using the Parent Center, taking part in a seminar, watching an online video put on by Parent Center staff, and more.

The idea is to help parents who are busy with school and work to provide for their families, according to Askelson.

“What [students] have to do to get these rewards is something that’s going to help them in the end,” she said.

Though the center opened last week, it’s already garnered plenty of participation.

“This place is really welcoming for parents,” said Anu Thawani, Riverland student. Though Thawani has only been to the center twice, she said the area was relaxing, something Riverland officials hope many student-parents feel.

Things are still coming together at the center, however. The Parent Center will soon have a refrigerator and Riverland and PRC staff will roll out programming and seminar opportunities for students this summer, with an emphasis on the upcoming fall semester. The DHS grant money will run out after next year, however, which means Riverland staff will soon apply for more grants to continue the service.

For now, students can enjoy a little extra help when it comes to school and parent life.

“You’ve got somebody you can talk to whether it’s school-related or parent-related,” Stahl said.