Junior Holly McDorman does her homework in the middle of the night while feeding her newborn baby.
The 32-year-old is a mother of four, a full-time pharmacy technician at Walgreens and a full-time student at Knox College. She says balancing her responsibilities as a mother and worker while also going to college has been challenging.
“It has gotten better, but it was really hard,” she said. “My first term here was really hard. I remember going into the Gizmo and like crying because it was just so hard to figure out.”
While McDorman goes to school and works to provide an income for her family, her husband is a stay-at-home father.
“He had worked for awhile, but we figured out that his working would basically pay for childcare,” McDorman said.
Childcare and preschool are expensive options for many families. In Knox County in particular, where child poverty and unemployment rates are high, it can be difficult for families to find jobs that pay well enough to justify utilizing local childcare services.
“We’d love for [my husband] to work, financially speaking, it would be a lot better for us. But most jobs here in Galesburg pay minimum wage, if not minimum wage just slightly over — not enough to pay for daycare,” McDorman said. “We are such a small town, we don’t have big opportunities.”
A parent and student
McDorman graduated from Galesburg High School as a Gale Scholar, meaning she could attend two years of college at Carl Sandburg College and two years at Knox fully paid. She said that she intended to go to college after graduating from high school, but got into an abusive relationship and quit going to school.
Now, she is determined to take that part of her life back.
“I got out of that relationship and I found my husband that I’m married to now and we’ve had kids. I want that part of my life back. I had that goal, I had that plan and then it all got taken away from me,” she said.
McDorman has been with her husband for 12 years and now has four children, ranging in age from 12 years old to one month old. Her baby boy, Riley, was born on April 21.
She has been able to work with professors to coordinate her schedule, but said that Carl Sandburg College had more options for non-traditional students like online classes. With a one-month old baby, she doesn’t get much sleep.
“My head’s so fuzzy from lack of sleep. I don’t even know if I remember the things I’ve read,” she said. “My teachers have been great, they let me bring him to class which has been really good, but depending on how much sleep I get will depend on whether or not I can physically get to class.”
McDorman plans to spend three years at Knox completing a major in Creative Writing and minoring in Journalism. After she graduates, she hopes she can possibly work for the local newspaper The Register-Mail. She said her family has also discussed moving to Peoria where there are more job and educational opportunities. Her husband wants to go to school to become a chef.
Her 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter both attend Galesburg public schools while her 2-year-old daughter stays home with her husband. Her newborn baby currently travels with her to class, but will be able to stay at home next fall.
McDorman returned to classes a week after giving birth this April. Going to classes while pregnant posed another challenge for her.
“All my classes are in Old Main, so I would climb up and down the stairs constantly. There were days when I wouldn’t go to classes because I just couldn’t physically get up and down the stairs,” she said.
For now, McDorman and her husband keep an eye on the costs of childcare to see if there are options they would be able to afford, but because her husband cannot make a substantial income to cover the costs of childcare, he will stay at home with their children for the time being.
For families who can afford the cost of Galesburg childcare, local options remain limited.
Both of Assistant Professor of History Danielle Fatkin’s children attended the Carl Sandburg Children’s School until it closed its doors in June 2014. Its closure left many local families unsure of their childcare options.
According to Fatkin, the Children’s School was the most highly regarded daycare option in Galesburg.
“It was the premier childcare center in Galesburg, it was the place everyone wanted to go. It was the place with the enormous waiting list,” Fatkin said.
Fatkin enrolled her 4-year-old daughter at the preschool at Costa Catholic Academy, where her 10-year-old son also attends elementary school.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” she said. “It’s not the situation we had at the Children’s School,” she said.
After the Children’s School closed down, several members of its staff started to work at a new Galesburg childcare center called Learning Connections, which opened on Sept. 15, 2014 in the building that formerly housed Cooke Elementary School.
According to the current Director of Learning Connections Sara Bates, 64 children are enrolled in the facility, which serves children from six weeks to 12 years old.
Chair of Environmental Studies Katie Adelsberger enrolled her daughter at Learning Connections when it opened last fall.
She said she had hoped her daughter would be able to attend the Children’s School prior to the announcement of its closing and put her on its waiting list while she was still pregnant.
She said that if the new facility had not opened, her husband, who is a Knox student, likely would have had to stop taking classes or only gone to school part-time.
A struggling county
According to Larry Joseph, the Director of Research at Voices for Illinois Children, the child poverty rate in Knox County is surprisingly high at 32.5 percent. Galesburg is the largest city in the county.
“They’re really striking. The child poverty rate is the second highest of the 40 largest counties in the state,” Joseph said. “There’s been a huge increase in the child poverty rate in Knox County. In 1999 it was only 17 percent, so it has nearly doubled since then.”
Voices for Illinois Children is a policy advocacy group that focuses on state issues relating to children and their families. The organization has researched topics including child health, education and family economic security.
Sixty percent of children ages 3-4 that are not low-income are enrolled in preschool statewide. This number drops to 44 percent for low-income children.
Adelsberger said that the cost of full-time enrollment at Learning Connections is about $200 per week. Her daughter is enrolled slightly less than full-time.
“It’s a big chunk of what I make and I’m the only breadwinner. It’s manageable, we wouldn’t do it obviously if it was that big of a stress,” she said. “I don’t know how I would do it without the income that I have and I can’t imagine trying to find daycare in this town if you don’t have a decent income. It just wouldn’t be able to work. I don’t know how people do it.”
Low-income families can apply for state funding to receive assistance to pay for childcare at facilities like Learning Connections, Bates said. She said that they do not keep specific statistics on the number of children that receive this funding.
“We don’t treat anyone differently,” Bates said. “We offer the same opportunities for all children.”
According to Joseph, low-income children are further behind in terms of school readiness.
“Family stress that arises from unstable employment and financial uncertainty can adversely affect parenting and the quality of family relationships. That also can be harmful to early childhood development,” he said. “So children in poverty are less ready for school at age five, they’re less likely to perform well in elementary school, they’re more likely to drop out of high school.”
Like many Galesburg residents, McDorman also comes from a background of poverty and is the first member of her family to go to college.
“I was raised in income-based housing. We had one parent working and my mom was at home. Neither one of my parents know how to read and write,” McDorman said. “I do not come from an educated background and I think that most college students do.”