ETTRICK – Had it not been for a famly member and a chance meeting, Makaela King’s life might be totally different now. As a pregnant high-school senior living in Baltimore, King had all but given up on going to college.
“It really wasn’t an option,” King, now a 19-year-old Virginia State University freshman, said. “I had decided to take a year off and do the ‘mom thing.’ I really did not want to stress about it.”
The plan was for her and her baby’s father to eventually go to college together. That way, wherever they decided to go, they would have a ready-made support network in place to raise their child.
Four months after their son Dakari was born, King’s partner died tragically. Her dream of college did not necessarily die with him, but suddenly the options seemed few. First and foremost was the well-being of that new little life she carried in her arms.
Earlier this year, King accompanied her son’s uncle on a trip to Virginia State University. The young man was setting up to attend, and he invited King, her baby and her mother to join him in visiting the campus.
While visiting the campus, she met Derrick Peterson, VSU’s director of residence life and housing.
“We were walking through the campus, taking a tour and talking about the college,” she recalled. “Dr. Peterson was the first person to tell me about the program. I didn’t know there were any colleges out there where students could attend while having children. So I gave it a thought.”
Fast-forward to now. King and Dakari, now a year old, live at the University Apartments at Ettrick. She is majoring in criminal justice and taking five classes – four of them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and one on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
On four of those days, she drops Dakari off at the child-care center where he stays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. That is the routine every day except Tuesday. The Monday, Wednesday and Fridays classes last all day, and she uses her extra time on Thursdays for uninterrupted study.
Asked how Dakari is adapting to college life, King said, “He loves it.” The schedule took a little time to get used to, “but he’s such a happy little baby, so he just went with it.”
Living arrangements unveiled
On Nov. 8, Virginia State University cut the ribbon on its new student-parent accommodations at the University Apartments, an off-campus residential community at the intersection of Woodpecker and Hickory roads, just across the railroad tracks from the VSU main campus. King is one of six students living in the complex who have children. She rooms with DaNajah Winfield, a freshman just like her who has a son around the same age as Dakari.
The student-parent apartments are part of a $1.45 million four-year grant Virginia State received last year from the U.S. Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents In School program, or CCAMPIS. The goal is to keep the cost of child care for student-parents as affordable as possible.
VSU said it filed for the grant after a campus-wide survey showed child-care costs as the main challenge students face. The six students chosen for the apartments are all honor students.
To be eligible, a student must be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate program and meet the requirements to receive federal Pell Grant funding.
“With financial assistance to help offset childcare costs, a working student parent will have less out-of-pocket expense for childcare and more money for household bills, creating savings, etc,” Dr. Regina Barnett-Tyler, VSU’s associate vice president for student success and engagement, said in a statement when VSU announced it would receive the grant. “It will relieve student parents from worrying about childcare and offer them the freedom to focus on school.”
The apartments are the latest in a series of physical modifications VSU has made on campus for its student-parents. There are child-friendly study rooms in the VSU library, and a lactation station was opened for nursing moms.
Additionally, diaper-changing stations are being added to men’s and women’s bathrooms, signs announcing the amenities are planned for each academic building on campus and expectant students will have designated parking throughout the campus.
‘He’s always with me’
King loves having her son with her on campus. When she is not in class, she and Dakari are often found walking around campus, going to sporting events or hanging out with friends in their dormitories.
“After hours, going to football games, to the dorms, he’s always with me,” King said. Dakari also has plenty of “aunties” to have fun with at the dormitories.
King said she loves the accommodations at University Apartments — “they provide everything we need,” she said. She also enjoys rooming with Winfield and adds their sons enjoy their playtimes.
“In the beginning, it was a little difficult because he was so used to going to sleep a lot,” she said. “As time went on, I had to make it feel like home for him.”
Dakari loves his caregivers at the child care center, too. “Every time I pick him up, he’s always so happy.”
King credited her supportive mother for making the transition from Baltimore to Ettrick less stressful. “Gamma” might miss having the baby around more often, but she was impressed by what she saw on their initial visit. Besides, they will be home for the upcoming holidays, so there will be plenty of time for grandmotherly love and spoiling.
“She knows we are here for a good reason,” King said of her mother.
King said she chose her major of criminal justice because she thought it might help her cope with the passing of Dakari’s father. She quickly admitted, however, that she was thinking of changing that major to “Undecided” while she makes up her mind about the career she wants to pursue.
“I didn’t have closure from his father’s passing,” King said. However, whatever she chooses, she said it will be a career that benefits both her and Dakari.
Despite having so many things to occupy her time, King said there are times when she climbs inside her own head and starts to feel lonely, thinking about Baltimore, her family and her lost partner.
“Sometimes, it’s hard,” she said softly. ‘But I always think of a bright side. As long as we’re together and [Dakari] is OK, that’s the main thing.”
Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at [email protected] or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.
Register & add your business/service with a few clicks in our directory free:
There are no reviews yet. Be the first one to write one.