Two days each week, the alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m.
Chelsea Searle puts on her scrubs and gets her 3-year-old son out of bed and dressed all before 5 a.m. When her mother arrives, she hits the road for an hour commute from Sanford to UNC Hospital’s Park and Ride lot in Chapel Hill where she boards a bus to the hospital to begin her 12.5 hour clinical rotation at 6:30 a.m.
“I know it’s an investment for a better future for me and my son, but it doesn’t make it any easier right now,” she said.
Searle, 25, is enrolled in the Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, program at Durham Technical Community College. When she is not working a clinical rotation, she is juggling a full-time course load, a part-time job, and most importantly, being a mom to her son, Kash.
“He said his first words and took his first steps in daycare,” Searle said. “He runs to them and away from me because it’s where he spends most of his time. I just have to stay strong and think of the alternative. If he’s not in daycare, then I’m not at school, and what is that going to accomplish?”
The other three days of the week, Searle drops her son off at daycare at 6 a.m. and makes the hour-long drive to Durham Tech’s main campus to attend class.
“When I drop him off at daycare, it’s just him and the teacher because no one else is there yet,” Searle said. “He’s the first one there and the last one to leave. I hate that, but I have to remind myself that this is just a means to an end.”
Searle said life as a single-parent student is a struggle, but when she came upon the Single Parent Program on Durham Tech’s website, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“The Single Parent Program has made this all possible,” Searle said. “Childcare costs thousands of dollars and to think that there’s this program that sees me on a piece of paper and says, ‘Yes, she’s worthy,’ means everything to me.”
The program offsets childcare costs for students in need and is 100 percent funded by the State of North Carolina. Each semester, Durham Tech allocates an average of $2,800 per student and serves between seven and 15 students. To be eligible for the program, students must have successfully completed one semester at Durham Tech, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and demonstrate financial need.
Karen Mosley, Coordinator of Counseling Services at Durham Tech, has overseen the Single Parent Program since 2014.
“I’ve seen this program impact students’ lives in so many ways,” Mosley said. “Students like Chelsea would not be afforded the opportunity to come to Durham Tech if they did not have childcare paid for. It enables students to do well in school because they are not worried about who is going to take care of their child.”
Searle said she sees the light at the end of the tunnel as she counts down to graduation day in May 2018.
“Sometimes when I’m on the way to school, I think about graduation day and it makes me tear up,” Searle said. “Just thinking about all of the struggle, frustration and time away from my child – it’s going to mean something. Walking across that stage and getting that piece of paper that has my name on it with ‘RN’ will mean the world to me.”
She credited the life-changing resources at Durham Tech for giving her an opportunity to create a better life for her and Kash.
“Durham Tech is more than just a tech school to me. It has made a huge impact in my life. None of the things I have accomplished up until this point would have been possible if I didn’t have Durham Tech,” Searle said. “It’s not just a school, a license or a certification, it’s a piece of paper with my name on it that I worked hard for that’s going to be able to support myself and my child. There’s nothing that can replace that.”