Online classes enable a return to college
By Matt Ledger
Practicing what you preach is great advice for life, as is the case for a local educator who monitors students taking online courses by day, while spending her evenings in front of a computer in her own collegiate-level distance learning program. Jessica Farlow started as a special education aide for a year at New Hope High School in 2012. She has since monitored the computer lab, as students take online course work for credits, including foreign language classes.
After the school day’s final bell, she spends hours on her own computer, completing her own assignments toward becoming a certified elementary and special education teacher. “The older you get, the more responsibility you already have,” Farlow says. She will graduate in Spring 2016 and hopes for a teaching position in Madison County.
Teachers with extra homework
Farlow attended Calhoun Community College in Huntsville from 2006 to 2009, receiving an associate degree in business. “I enjoyed going to campus, but online classes are much more convenient,” she says. She began classes again in 2013 with online courses through Athens State University.
She’s not the only teacher at New Hope with extra homework. English teacher Lydia Armstrong has taught at the school for five years. She studied online and received her Bachelor of Arts from Athens State in 2010, only attending two courses on campus. Armstrong is now taking online courses, through The University of West Alabama, working toward her master’s in English language arts for secondary education. She ultimately hopes to become a professor at a local college.
Starting on campus, completing online
New Hope Telephone’s Marketing Administrator Christy Nelson grew up hearing her mother’s stories of hardworking days on the assembly line. While working at her own factory job, she began thinking about other career paths. “That was when I decided that I wanted to go back to school,” Nelson says.
She began at Virginia College of Huntsville in 2004, seeking her associate degree in administrative office management. While pursuing her associate degree, she began working as a customer service representative for New Hope Telephone Cooperative.
Nelson continued toward a bachelor’s, but she needed to take one course that was not offered on campus. Reluctantly, she had to try it through the school’s well-known online program. “I was nervous about it, but I went ahead with it, and I actually loved it,” Nelson says. “Initially, I never would have considered it, until I was put in the position where I had to do it to get the credit.”
Connecting to classes
It can be overwhelming that first semester, as online students must be disciplined enough to stay on schedule, Farlow cautioned. “I figured out quickly that I needed to write a weekly list of assignments,” she says. “That way, I would try to set my own schedule, like I was actually going to classes.”
Farlow, Armstrong and Nelson say self-motivation is key to thriving in an online program. Being computer savvy is also an important factor for those avoiding the classroom.
Distance was the biggest factor for Armstrong — facing a one-hour-and-45-minute drive each way meant more time in the car than she would spend in the classroom. “I lived in Dutton, so driving to Athens for the classes was just an inconvenience,” Armstrong says.
Taking classes from home meant hours that would have been spent in the car would become time for her to study, and money that would have gone for gas went to pay for tuition. The graduate-level online courses she is now taking provide new challenges. “It’s a lot more intense, especially having a full-time job and trying to have a personal life,” she says.
Distance learning programs help family life
Nelson’s determination for a degree was met with new challenges once her sons, Kaleb and Kody arrived. “When I was going to the campus, I would work until 5 p.m., then I would go straight to school, and I was there until almost 10 p.m.,” says Nelson, who made the one-hour roundtrip four nights each week while her boys stayed with their grandparents. “Kaleb would be in bed by the time I got home, so I felt like I was losing out on time with him.”
She met her husband, Jason Steelman, while on the Huntsville campus during a keyboarding class. Both quickly learned that the convenience of online studies helped bring balance to busy schedules and family time. “When you have kids, this is the way to go,” Nelson says.
Nelson’s third child, Celsea, arrived while she and her husband worked toward master’s degrees in business administration. Christy became the NHTC marketing administrator in 2012, in part because her new degrees qualified her for the position. For the past two years, she and other NHTC staffers have helped community members through classes at NHTC’s Digital Literacy Lab. “That was my dream as a child; I wanted my own office,” Nelson says. “I absolutely love it now; there’s never a dull moment, and it’s a dream come true.”