Sunday, September 09, 2001

College students have a wealth of life experience

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At Chatfield College in Cincinnati's North Fairmount neighborhood, students of various ages, races, incomes and backgrounds gain a chance at a two-year-degree in liberal arts, and perhaps a bachelor's at a Tristate university.

        They also find enough confidence to succeed.

        Ask Vivian Maxwell, 63, of Bond Hill who on Thursday was finding an awful lot in common with 19-year-old Jessica Crusham and 18-year-old Amyra Andrews.

[photo] At Chatfield's campus in North Fairmount, Sue Harmann teaches developmental English to Donna Hoffman, 18, and Amyra Andrews, 18 (right).
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        The two young Cincinnati women were struggling through their weekly 2 1/2-hour English class, preparing for the college-level courses at Chatfield. Like them, Mrs. Maxwell was toiling over sentence structure and grammar exercises. If she doesn't pass this class, she says, she'll never finish college.

        “I'm struggling. This is hard,” she said.

        This from a woman who married at age 13 and had 16 children — including triplet boys, now 45. She has 63 grandchildren, 39 great-grandchildren and 19 great-great-grandchildren.

        Mrs. Maxwell, a widow, said she attends Chatfield for a number of reasons:

        • When she was a teen she promised an uncle she would finish school.

        • She wants to be a good role model for her family.

        • She wants to be a social worker.

        “It's something I've wanted to do for me,” she said. “I feel it's my turn, because my baby is 20 years old.”

        Amyra Andrews, though much younger, has a similar motivation. The Lincoln Heights office worker and single mother said concern for her 2-year-old's future convinced her to take care of her own.

        “If it wasn't for my son, I wouldn't even have graduated from high school,” she said.

        “I wouldn't be pushing to do something with my life. But I've got to be a role model. He's got to have somebody to look up to.”

        Thanks to Chatfield, she said, he may be looking up to his mother the lawyer.

        “This is very cool. I can do this,” she said.

        Chatfield, a tiny, two-year bachelor of arts institution in the North Fairmount Community Center, helps adults obtain college degrees regardless of education experience, age or income.

        Its integrated staff and student body graduate several dozen students each year, putting about 60 percent into junior or senior years at four-year colleges.

        “What our students lack is confidence, not intelligence,” said Babs DeArmond, director and one of about two dozen instructors.

        Chatfield draws students from its surrounding community, she said, mainly single mothers or people who have obtained a high school equivalency diploma, or full-time workers who ride buses or walk from nearby homes and projects.

        Free day care, once-a-week classes and individual attention and mentoring make it possible, Ms. DeArmond said.

        Formed in 1845 by the Ursuline Order of nuns, Chatfield began in Brown County as a private girls residential school for rich families. Eventually it evolved into a community college for poor Appalachian women, with an additional branch in Lower Price Hill.

        In 1998 that branch moved to North Fairmount, received accreditation and extended its reach into African American communities.

        Now half of its 91 students are African American; six out of 10 students are raising children at home; half are over age 25. Nearly all of them are employed but receive financial aid.

        Chatfield is part of the Greater Cincinnati Consortium of Colleges, meaning its students can cross-register at other consortium colleges, such as Xavier University and the College of Mount St. Joseph, where they can obtain their higher degrees.


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