Penn State York grads overcome odds

Alyssa Pressler
  • Tabatha Peters, who started working toward her degree 20 years ago, will graduate this Friday.
  • Gina Moorehead also will graduate, after having a child at a young age and with little outside support.
  • Commencement will be streamed live on Penn State York's website and Comcast channel 18.

Tabatha Peters first started working toward her degree at Penn State York when her son was 2 years old. She juggled a full-time job, a new baby and being a student.

Substitute teacher Tabatha Peters, left, of West York, celebrates a match in a game of Memory with student Lexi Mast, 4, during the Community Progress Council's Head Start in York City, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That was 20 years ago. Since then, Peters has graduated with her associate's degree, given birth to a daughter and continued to work toward her bachelor's degree in human development and family studies. Slowly but surely, she chipped away at her course load, bringing her to her final destination: graduation at Penn State York on Friday.

Peters, 46, laughed as she recalled when she began her studies having to mail in her exams, papers and assignments, wait a few weeks and then receive the graded assignments back. To complete a course took eight months, she said.

Things are easier today with technology, which allowed Peters to switch between the Penn State York campus and the Penn State World Campus, an online option for students. As the mother of two children and someone who worked full-time while attending school, Peters was able to work at her own pace thanks to those options.

Help came from the Community Progress Council's Early Head Start program, where Peters worked for 10 years. Each year, the federal government gives money to the program for tuition and training for staff, which Peters was able to use to pay for a class or two each semester.

From left, substitute teacher Tabatha Peters, of West York, practices her conflict management skills after a disagreement between students Camden Menke, 5, and Lexi Mast, 4, during a Head Start class in York City, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

This kept her academic load light while she worked and raised her children, now 22 and 18, and allowed her to only have to take out a few loans for her most recent semesters while she completed her unpaid internship at the York County District Attorney's Office. Her internship was why she left the Early Head Start program job she had, but she's now a substitute teacher with Head Start and is focusing on finding a new full-time job with her degree.

"All the different responsibilities of being a mom, a student, a wife and just juggling everything and finding time to study and write papers, it was a struggle," Peters said.

She said her children kept her working toward her ultimate goal of graduating because she wanted them to go to college too. Her goal was to graduate before her son graduated from college in New Jersey. He will graduate in May, while her daughter will graduate from York Catholic High School in May and continue on to college.

Peters said she wouldn't have been able to graduate with her bachelor's if it hadn't been for the help and understanding she received on the Penn State York campus. She recalled a time when her son was very young and his day care was closed. She had to take a final, so she showed up to Professor Robert Ferrell's science class with her son in tow, worried she wouldn't be able to take the test.

Ferrell responded by having the child sit at his desk and eat peanut butter crackers, Peters said. No matter what, the college always worked with her to help her succeed.

Facing adversity: Ginia Moorehead, a 24-year-old human development and family studies student, also faced difficulty in obtaining her degree. Moorehead gave birth to her first child at age 16 in Aberdeen, Maryland. Before that, she said, she wasn't the best student; she was rarely going to class, and she doesn't believe she had a grade-point average greater than 1.0.

Her daughter changed her life, though. Moorehead moved to York City to be with her daughter's father and finished high school at William Penn. She enrolled at Penn State York in 2011 with an undeclared major and later decided to major in human development and family studies so she could encourage students who were in similar positions.

For the first three years she attended Penn State York, she didn't have a car. She said faculty and staff of the college reached out to her, gave her rides, helped with her first daughter and her second daughter, born a little over a year ago. On days they couldn't, she walked her daughter to day care before walking to campus for class or to study.

"The people there so supportive. One guy even fixed a flat tire for me, all dressed nice in his work clothes," Moorehead said.

She secured an internship with the Children's Home of York and was hired as a child prevention specialist. She works at several local elementary schools, providing them with drug and gambling prevention programs. She hopes to encourage other students to persevere in their education.

Penn State York's commencement will take place at 6 p.m. Friday. Moorehead, Peters and their fellow graduates will hear William S. Shipley III, chairman of the board for Shipley Group and a board of trustees representative for Penn State University, speak.

According to information provided by Penn State York, 66 students will graduate during the ceremony. The commencement will be broadcast on Comcast cable channel 18, or viewers can stream the ceremony live on the campus website.