Pace and Daytona State College Made Higher Education Possible
When most college freshmen leave for school, their family interaction is limited to a hug and kiss goodbye and the occasional family phone call or visit.
But for 18-year-old Lily McLaughlin, who started classes at Daytona State College last week, higher education is a family affair.
On any given day, she might walk with her mother, Julie, while they both head to their classes. Her father, Patrick, may attend his classes at the technical college later that evening and her grandmother, Sandy Morse, may zip through campus on her red scooter to ask staff a question about her own online courses.
“I have always wanted to go to school here,” Lily said recently at DSC’s new residence hall, where she is living this year.
Her plans were put in jeopardy, though, after her 15-year-old brother Connor died of childhood cancer while she was in high school and going on 15 herself.
“I struggled a lot with attendance and schoolwork,” Lily said. “I was still on top of my schoolwork. Just, it was very hard for me to stay in class and attend.”
Julie noted her daughter would have panic attacks and anxiety attacks that made attending school difficult.
Not to mention she also worked at Sonic to make some extra money and acted as a second mother caring for her three younger sisters.
Drawing inspiration and support from her family, the college and Pace Center for Girls Volusia-Flagler, though, Lily is on track to complete her Associate of Arts degree in early education, and her costs are fully covered by scholarships and financial aid.
Pace and Daytona State College made higher education possible
Julie, who had been a “Pace girl” as a teenager, connected Lily with the organization after she started struggling, and Lily's 15-year-old sister is also in the program. Referrals to Pace come most often from schools, but can be made by anyone.
Pace is a day center for girls that offers counseling services, life skills resources, career planning and case management for girls in middle and high school. It also offers classes in place of students attending their regular schools and allows girls to graduate with a diploma from their main school.
Executive Director Sheila Jordan says girls come from all situations, some as intense as human trafficking or having inpatient hospitalizations after suicide attempts. Others may come from situations of substance abuse, bullying or their parents’ divorce which limits their ability to participate in school.
The organization has been active in Volusia and Flagler counties for 25 years and has served more than 3,000 girls.
“Many of them are limited financially, and (college) just isn't an option sometimes,” Jordan said.
Pace helped Lily get caught up on the classes she needed to graduate and make plans for after graduation. It offered more hands-on learning and a chance to build connections with teachers and counselors, Lily said.
After learning about Lily’s desire to attend DSC, a Pace board member connected with the college to create a scholarship to assist with tuition and housing costs at the residence hall, which opened this year.
Jordan said had the funding not become available, it “absolutely would have been a roadblock” to prevent Lily from attending school. Pace girls have attended DSC before, but the scholarship partnership is new, and the college has committed to supporting future Pace girls as well, depending on need.
Lily said she probably would have taken a year to save up some money after high school had she not received the financial support. With cramped living circumstances at their Ormond Beach home right now, she doesn’t think she could’ve studied and taken classes from home.
“She's watched her mom work hard. She's watched her mom, I'm sure, struggle but continue to take good care of herself and her siblings,” Jordan said. “So she points to her mom and now is inspired by the fact that her mom is going to school at the same time she is.”
Education is for everyone
Julie, whom Lily calls "the backbone" of the family, helps not only her daughter but also her husband and mother-in-law navigate online school systems and requirements.
She currently works as a certified nursing assistant and is studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse. She had already completed some school several years ago but took a break when her son got sick and then took time to grieve after he died in 2019. She returned to classes last year.
Julie is 37, and she encouraged her husband Patrick, also 37, to start classes toward a CNC machining certificate as well.
“Minimum wage is just not enough. Inflation, too, right now, it’s freaking nuts,” she said.
Sandy Morse, Patrick’s mom, is 66. She’s also been studying hospitality online at the college.
“You can go back to school at any age, definitely,” Julie said.
The McLaughlins, though, are still working out the kinks of attending school together, at least for Lily and Julie, who are often on campus at the same time.
Supporting the next generation
Julie says her daughter is doing great and is thankful for the resources at Pace and DSC’s TRiO program, which provides extra support to first-generation and low-income students like Lily.
The TRiO Student Support Services program provides a thorough orientation to students, keeps them on track for graduation and supplies resources like tutoring and advising through individualized academic plans.
“We're advisers, we're counselors, we’re cheerleaders, so whatever the student needs from us, we’ve got their back,” Director Robert Jacobs said.
“The hurdles that some (students) have to jump through is amazing,” Angela Gonzalez of TRiO added. “That’s why we're here to cheer them on. We understand life happens, and we'll do whatever we can to help them just to get through and graduate.”
Lily already took summer courses to get a head start, and she’s navigating college well despite all that life has thrown at her.
“It's so exciting. I love it so much,” she said. “I like my roommates. I like my classes. I just want to proceed and keep going. I want to be a teacher. I can’t wait.”
She was inspired to pursue elementary education after helping her mom raise the kids and having good experiences with her own teachers. Soon, she may help children overcome similar challenges the same way her support system has assisted her.
“I want to raise the next generation,” Lily said. “I want to watch kids grow. I want to help them when they need help. I want to see kids who struggle and help them.”