Finding a way to make it work

El Paso Community College student Marixochitl "Mari" Pratz takes a stroll with her son, Prixton. (Photos: EPCC)

It’s almost 8 p.m. by the time Marixochitl Pratz – Mari to her friends and family – gets the chance to sit down and talk about her life and experiences at El Paso Community College (EPCC).

That’s because Mari works full-time, and after she gets home from work, she’s in full-blown mom mode until her son Rixton is in bed. Only then can she focus on her studies, or in this case, take some time to talk about the road that led her to pursuing a social work degree at EPCC.

When Mari became pregnant in high school, she was sure of one thing: she didn’t want to be a dropout. She worked hard to keep up with her peers and graduate with her class. She always wanted to continue her education in college, but with a new baby, she felt her chance had passed.

She explains that she told herself, “You lost your time. You’re a mom and you got to take care of someone else. You don’t have that opportunity.”

Related article: Campus child care helps student parents

Mari’s mom would encourage her, telling her to just enroll in a class or two. She always meant to do it, but things came up and she put it off.

It was a conversation with her son that changed everything for Mari. They were in his room talking about school and Mari commented about him going to college someday. He asked her “Why didn’t you go to college? Why should I go to college? Isn’t it just like finishing high school?”

Mari explained that college would give her son greater opportunities and the ability to earn more money. That conversation was a turning point, and after it, Mari enrolled at EPCC.

Mari says she is grateful to enroll at EPCC.

“It gives me like a purpose. I’m doing something for me, you know?” she says. “When people ask me what I’m doing, I don’t just tell them about my work. I tell them I’m going to school for social work. I say it with pride. it makes me feel so good. I’m accomplishing something and achieving a goal that I always had. It’s exciting.”

Help from a federal program

An EPCC flier to raise awareness about available financial help for students’ child-care needs.

Mari plans to graduate this fall and credits EPCC’s resources for helping her stay in school and complete her degree. One of those resources is the college’s $1 million Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grant that helps subsidize child care for qualifying parents while they’re in classes at EPCC. The grant is in collaboration with the YWCA, a long-time partner with EPCC in supporting student parents.

Because of it, Mari was able to continue with her studies and not take breaks between semesters, knowing her son was in good hands.

“It helped me so much. Definitely it helped me continue. Instead of thinking, okay, well now what am I going to do? It helped me keep on the track,” she says.

Blayne Primozich, dean of communication and performing arts and co-director on the grant, is a long-time advocate for parent-students and the grant has personal significance for him. His own mother attended EPCC as a single parent, initially working in child care and then earning a bachelor’s degree and starting a career in education.

“I’m very excited to be part of EPCC’s continuing efforts to build greater equity for our students,” he says. “Our student-parents make up a significant population at the college, and we are working hard to identify needs and deliver the supports that will help those students be successful and fulfill their career goals.”

Role models

In addition to student support services like the child-care grant, Mari attributes her success to professors who care and the smaller class sizes that allowed her to get more attention during instruction. During the pandemic, Mari continued with classes online and she spoke of the time and attention her professors gave to her questions.

Before the pandemic, she had a particular professor whose attitude impressed her as much as the concepts he taught in his English class. His positivity helped her to look for the good in her own life and inspires her to treat others in a way that improves their outlooks on life, too.

Mari looks forward to continuing on this positive path after EPCC. She’s going to complete her bachelor’s degree in social work and wants to be a help to others, improving their lives in difficult circumstances. Thanks to a conversation with her son, Mari’s now an example to him of the good that comes into your life with pursuing a college degree.

After working during the day and being a mom when she comes home, Mari hits the homework after her son goes to sleep.

About the Author

Lisa Elliott
is a professor of mass communications at El Paso Community College in Texas.