Nontraditional students juggle school, work and parenthood during COVID-19

Master's student Julie Bayer-Vile helps her daughter with a worksheet. Photo courtesy of Julie Bayer-Vile

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

On a normal day, VCU student Julie Bayer-Vile would wake up at 5 a.m. and head to campus, while her husband dropped off their 5-year-old daughter at daycare. Now, her mornings consist of spending time with her daughter, Lizzie, before working on her classes.

Bayer-Vile is a first year master’s student in genetic counseling. She spends normally 30 hours a week at VCU while her husband works as a medical physicist.

Bayer-Vile now participates in her classes, clinicals and assists with genetic counselors online, like most college students across the country.

“I find myself having a lot less time to do what I need to do,” Bayer-Vile said.

Daycares have not been forced to close, but Gov. Ralph Northam’s 10 person limit for businesses applies to child care services. Lizzie’s daycare remained open for children of essential personnel, which prompted Bayer-Vile and her husband to keep Lizzie at home, Bayer-Vile said.

One of Bayer-Vile’s biggest concerns has become keeping her daughter on track with exercise and mental stimulation, she said.

“The hardest challenge is keeping her socially engaged and making sure she’s having time to be outside and be with kids in the neighborhood, but being safe,” Bayer-Vile said.

Bayer-Vile said her and her husband have tried to keep Lizzie on somewhat of a schedule. She has outside time, exercise time, a math or reading activity and dance time. Lizzie’s dance teacher has been posting dance tutorials online that she and her mom have been learning.

“The biggest challenge is trying to keep a structure and a routine as much as possible both for her and for us,” Bayer-Vile said.

But online classes compounded with being a full-time mom have taken a toll. Despite that, Bayer-Vile’s husband, DJ Vile, said he’s been very impressed with how well she has handled the transition, despite how hard it has been for both of them.

Bayer-Vile says she prefers in-person instruction to virtual learning, and she was happy with VCU’s decision to offer a pass/fail option to students this semester.

“It’s nice to know that I don’t need to stress about my grades, and I have the option for this to not affect my GPA,” Bayer-Vile said. “It lets me focus more on what is important, like my daughter.”

Elliott Martin, history major. Photo courtesy of Elliott Martin

History major and Retro Rams member Elliott Martin said he is having trouble staying on top of school work in his home. Martin rents a room in a house in Ashland, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, his landlord, her son and Martin are all under one roof and out of work.

The 39 year old is a janitor at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, but hasn’t been working because of the museum’s closure. However, he is getting paid for the time he’s missing. 

While Martin says they generally keep to themselves, it has been a bit of a distraction.

“I never know if what I’m doing is bothering them,” Martin said.

Martin has been a part of Retro Rams since he started VCU in August. The student organization supports non-traditional students through service, social and learning opportunities.

“They’ve provided companionship,” Martin said.

Martin said he’s appreciated being a part of a group of non-traditional students on campus and that he’s enjoyed getting coffee with other members of Retro Rams.

For Martin, studying from home has been difficult because of the range of distractions, like having television or books readily available.

“You just have to remind yourself that you have more important things to do,” Martin said.

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