by Neree Aron-Sando
LaKiesha Richert of Norristown graduated from Montgomery County Community College in May with her Associate in Arts degree at the age of 34. Cheering her on were her three children, one of whom attended some classes with her, and her entire department.
“I knew Montgomery County Community College had a nursing program, and it was a good start for me to get my feet in the door since I haven’t been in school in years,” she said.
At Montgomery County Community College, Richert served as president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and a member of the KEYS Club and the KEYS program.
KEYS (Keystone Education Yields Success) is a state-funded program that helps single parents pay for costs associated with education, including tuition, transportation, childcare and books.
She also benefited from Act 101, another state-funded program that provides individualized academic and counseling support services to students who clearly have the potential and motivation for success, qualify financially, and meet at least one of the academic requirements.
Richert did work study in the Student Success Center and served as a peer mentor and as an orientation leader for new students’ orientation.
“An important experience that I can say I had was being able to relate to nontraditional students and encourage them that ‘they can do it’,” Richert said.
That’s because Richert has faced the challenges that a nontraditional student might encounter head on.
At one point, she had to withdraw from school because her son required admission to the hospital for treatment of his severe asthma on several occasions.
“It was really frustrating because in many of the classes, I was doing real strongly, but missing days set me back,” she said. “I also had some child care problems, and I couldn’t afford the high cost of child care. What I did was never give up. Even though I had to withdraw from courses, I stayed in class until the last possible day and then retook the class.
“As far as the child care goes, my solution was to bring my son to class and work,” Richert said.
“At first, I was ashamed and I felt like giving up. I was very embarrassed to have to bring him to class not only once, but several times in the same semester. Then eventually I got over it and looked at it as part of my process, my journey. It wasn’t like everyone else’s, but it was mine. My classmates and instructors were very supportive. They even got to the point they looked forward to seeing him. He was well behaved in class and never caused a distraction, so that made me at ease,” Richert said.
There was some resistance to having a little boy in class and at the Student Support Center, but her classmates, instructors, and supervisors were supportive. “My department understood I was a single mother doing the best I could and did what they could to help me. My son has severe asthma along with eight food allergies, so I had more people for me than against me,” she said.
Her son is now 5, and his asthma is under control. Richert also has two daughters, 16 and 13. While raising three children and taking classes full time, Richert worked two part-time jobs.
“I maintained honors eligibility, and I proved to myself and was an example to my children that achieving a college degree could be done,” she said.
KEYS program and Act 101 scholarships and grants helped with the financial challenges. “Since I knew that I wanted to transfer to a four-year college after I graduated, financial aid put my mind at ease about how I was going to pay for this first step,” Richert said
The next step is to find a four-year school at which she will pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.