Mercer students balance job, school and parenting responsibilities

Emily Benner, from left, is pictured with her 7-year-old daughter, Olive Benner; 7; father, Bob Chapman; and mother, Toni Chapman.
Emily Benner, left, is pictured with her 7-year-old daughter Olive Benner, father Bob Chapman and mother Toni Chapman. (Photo by Melinda Pease of MPSportsPics and Mylinda Knittel & Melinda Pease Photography by M&M)

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, students in K-12 schools have been doing their schoolwork at home for weeks now. This often requires supervision and assistance from parents, some of whom have their own assignments to tackle for online college classes as well as full-time jobs. 

A few working adult students in Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement shared how they are trying to balance their ever-growing list of responsibilities, which now include the role of schoolteacher to their children.

Benner, a graduating senior in the criminal justice program, lives in Loganville with her 7-year-old daughter, Olive, and her parents. She is the owner of physician credentialing company EA Sharp.

Benner took extra courses at Mercer this semester so she could finish her degree, and luckily, they were all already online. She moved her daughter’s desk from her room to the home office, so they could work side-by-side. 

“She’s become my coworker,” Benner said. 

For Benner, organization and planning have been key in balancing her roles. Every Sunday or Monday, she sets out all of her Mercer textbooks and notes, prints out her assignments and systematically works through each of them. 

“The Mercer professors are so responsive,” she said. “They’re going through the same stuff that we are. They’re having to manage multiple class loads and also be there for their families. We all kind of have this commonality together.” 

On weekdays, Benner pulls up Olive’s school assignments on the computer and prints her worksheets. They go through online components like videos first, and then Olive works on her printouts while Benner does remote work for her job. Benner also finds supplemental things like virtual tours to keep her daughter busy, and she installed a trail camera so Olive can study the wildlife that goes through their backyard and nearby green space.

“The biggest challenge is that my work hasn’t stopped. My role in my children’s life changed. I, of course, am still mom, but now I am also teacher.”

Jenay Hicks, a third-year student in the College of Professional Advancement’s clinical mental health counseling program

Jenay Hicks, a third-year student in the clinical mental health counseling program, has a 16-year-old son, Elijah, and 9-year-old daughter, Nia. She is also the associate director of graduate medical education at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“I don’t know if I would call it balancing,” she said with a laugh. “This has been a struggle. My kids are both in a virtual learning environment that requires a significant amount of oversight. The biggest challenge is that my work hasn’t stopped. My role in my children’s life changed. I, of course, am still mom, but now I am also teacher.”

Hicks has a full client load for her counseling practicum and is seeing clients virtually through tele-health appointments. The work is still rigorous, but the counseling professors have been understanding and flexible, and they have adapted their syllabi to account for the current situation.

Syreeta Bowman and her 16-year-old daughter, Makenzie.

Syreeta Bowman, a second-year student in the organizational leadership master’s program, has a 16-year-old daughter, Makenzie, and a job in healthcare information technology. She said her daughter has done very well in the online school setting, and she mainly just serves as a sounding board to her when she has questions or wants feedback.  

Bowman said it has worked out great to be able to do work for her job at the same time during the day that Makenzie does her schoolwork. Bowman usually completes her Mercer class assignments in the evenings when her daughter is chatting with friends.

She suggested that parents take work/study breaks with their children and incorporate them into meal planning and prep. Hicks urged parents to give themselves a break and reminded them that they deserve a little grace.

These Bears have also discovered some silver linings amid the current chaos. 

“I love that COVID-19 has forced me to pause and just be,” Hicks said. “I am more appreciative today than I have ever been to just come home and see my children and know that they are safe. My husband is an essential worker as well, and I have a great appreciation for him when he walks through that door. I am just practicing radical empathy and extreme kindness these days.”

Benner said that immersing herself in her job and Mercer courses and supervising her daughter’s school work have been much-needed distractions. She thinks that people will want to get to know their neighbors and smile at others a little more when this is all said and done.

“We live in such a frantic world. There are so many demands put on us,” Benner said. “While this is terribly tragic … it’s caused us to almost hit the pause button and re-evaluate the true importance of what matters most — our families, our spending time together. There’s some silver lining with this whole thing, and I think that’s to treasure our human contact with one another.”


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