Posted on July 27, 2016

Families Go Back To School Hoping To Build Better Careers

By Stephen J. Pytak

Pottsville, Pa. (July 25, 2016) - While Alicia M. and Alexander R. Ballou, Friedensburg, are busy parents and are expecting another child soon, they’re working to better their career prospects.

“We’ve been talking about going back to school for about four months. We’re living at my parent’s house. We’d like to find a way to make it on our own. And no job at fast food can really get you there,” Alicia said Monday.

When they started taking classes at McCann School of Business & Technology, Pottsville, they learned they weren’t the only families returning to school.

Other couples and two sets of twins started classes for the summer term last week, according to Shannon Brennan, the campus director. The twins are Joe and Jonathan Hollenbush, 23, of Cressona, and Kathylyn and Victoria Rodriguez, Pottsville.

“It’s rare that we see families and couples coming to school together at the same time. Typically, what we would normally see is a spouse come in and finish the program. Then they would get a good job and their husband or wife would be interested. So this is something new, which is nice,” Brennan said.

“Right now, I’m just a waitress at Pizza Hut, the one on Gordon Nagle Trail,” Alicia Ballou, 22, said Monday.

She graduated from Blue Mountain High School in 2013.

Meanwhile Alexander Ballou, 21, works in the electrical department at Home Depot. A 2012 graduate of Blue Mountain High School, he served in the Air Force for two years and earned the rank of E-3.

“We both have part-time jobs. I’m working five days a week. He only works like, maybe, four,” Alicia said.

The couple has two children: Alexander R. Jr., 1, and Austin M., 6 months. Alicia said she expects their third child to arrive in January.

Figuring out how to pay for school was an immediate concern.

“The three things people want answered when they call me are: Can I do it academically? Can I afford it? And will I fit in?” Brennan said.

“We just wondered if we could afford it,” Alicia said.

“Every student will complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). That is the application to apply for federal student loans. And they’ll enter their family size, their income levels and that sort of thing. And it will calculate how much student loan money they’re eligible for. And then we’ll submit that also to PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) to see if they’re eligible for state grants. Our financial aid office will also see if they’re eligible for the Pell Grant, which is a federal grant, ” Brennan said.

“So typically when a student or family will do is see how much their eligible for in grants, free money that doesn’t have to get paid back. Then they’ll see how much their eligible for in student loans. Then they’ll see if there’s any gap between tuition charges and what they’re eligible for,” Brennan said.

“Now, if you have more than one family member coming at the same time, you’re usually eligible for more dollars,” Brennan said.

Brennan encouraged interested families to contact the financial aid office at McCann for more information.

The Ballous were eligible for grants and loans, Brennan said.

“Were your parents excited about you coming to school?” Brennan asked Alicia.

“Yes,” Alicia said.

Alicia enrolled in McCann’s clinical/medical assistant program.

“It’s a one-year program and if she completes it she will receive a diploma,” Brennan said.

“I’d like to one day become a registered nurse,” Alicia said.

Meanwhile her husband enrolled in McCann’s network administration and security program.

“That’s basically a two-year program. If he completes it, he will receive an associate degree,” Brennan said.

Alexander would like a career in computers.

“Right now the jobs offers I’m seeing aren’t all that great. I’m not finding anything that interests me or would persuade me to have an entire career in it. And I’ve always liked computers,” Alexander said Monday.

“I’d like to hopefully go on to get a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and move up as far as I can and get myself a really good job and hopefully work in a company for as long as I can,” Alexander said.

Alicia said she went to high school with the Hollenbush twins. They graduated from Blue Mountain in 2011.

“We worked at a factory. I worked there for a year. And I worked at Giant Food stores for four and a half years, I believe,” Jonathan said.

“I worked at a factory for five years then I decided I wanted to further myself,” Joe said.

The twins weren’t satisfied with the number of job opportunities in Schuylkill County for people who only had high school educations.

“Not that I wanted in my life anyway. It would have been factory job after factory job. And that was not the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to better myself and have a career instead of hoping to find a factory or some kind of construction job. It just wasn’t my cup of tea,” Jonathan said.

“We felt like with a high school diploma only, there weren’t many doors opening, there weren’t many opportunities you had in today’s day and age especially,” Joe said.

They enrolled in April, Brennan said.

“We sat down and looked at a number of different types of schools, but we figured McCann would be our best option,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan is a business administrator major, aiming to earn an associate’s degree.

“But I’m hoping to go on at least to a bachelor’s. I’d like to have a career in realty,” Jonathan said Tuesday.

And Joe is studying criminal justice. He’s aiming to earn an associate degree from McCann’s in two years.

“I’d like to work in the courthouse somewhere,” Joe said.

The Rodriguez sisters are hoping to find careers in health care.

Kathylyn R. and Victoria S. Rodriguez, 22, graduated high school via the Agora Cyber Charter School in 2012. Then they decided to also acquire secondary education degrees online. In 2013, Kathylyn received an associate degree in health care administration from Colorado Tech University. In 2015, Victoria received an associate degree in criminal justice from Argosy University Online.

But those degrees weren’t helping their chances in the job market.

Victoria works part-time at Weis Markets at 500 Pottsville Park Plaza, Norwegian Township. Kathylyn works part-time at Wendy’s restaurant along state Route 61 in East Norwegian Township. And they rent space from their mother, Barbara Morales, in Pottsville.

Last year, they decided to reconsider their options. Both applied to McCann.

“I heard they had the best phlebotomy program in Pennsylvania. Our sister in New York was doing it and she loves her job. And I figured I’d try something that was hands on. And I really like it here,” Kathylyn said Wednesday.

“Same. Where I went before, there was no effort to help the students. It was more like ‘OK. You got your degree. You paid us. Now you can go on your own. We’re not going to help you.’ But here, they help you to find a job,” Victoria said.

“We started in November,” Kathylyn said.

The sisters got hands-on training last week via Schuylkill County Prison. They will graduate from McCann in September.

“And I’m confident we’ll be able to get a job. With the school here, it’s a team effort with us and them. Especially with our externship, they were very helpful, helping us pick where we can go. And I feel we can get a job after we graduate from here,” Victoria said.