Raising Straight-A Students

Raising Straight-A Students

Solo Mom Lisa Richardson discusses how she emphasizes education

Lisa Richardson, 48, is mother to Delysse, 25, a college graduate; Cael, 18, a high school senior; and Shannon, 17, a high school junior. Richardson resides in Trenton, New Jersey, and is a supervisor with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Q: Can you talk about how educating your children is part of a larger commitment to health and healing?

A: I became a single mom as the result of domestic violence. My husband was a hard worker, but he was an alcoholic who had been raised in a household in which he witnessed domestic violence. The night that he beat me up, my husband came home drunk and high. I was in the bathtub, relaxing at the end of the day. He aggressively made his way into the bathroom and began punching me. When the shock left me, I began to fight back. My aunt was living with us at the time and was downstairs. I was able to call 911. In the end, I was hospitalized, having been severely beaten. My husband was jailed. Later, I found out that someone had told my husband a strange story: that I had become a go-go dancer and was seeing someone on the side. In fact, I was just a regular mom, going to work and coming back home to take care of my family. I had no desire or interest in such shenanigans! But that is what alcohol does to people. I left my husband but kept photos of my battered self. I kept them in my purse, so that I would never forget or become weak. Since there had been a history of domestic violence in my husband’s family and in mine, I felt the need to stop the cycle.

Q: What do you do, if anything, to encourage strong reading and study habits?

A: As a parent, I have always made school important. My job was to go to work, and their job was to go to school and earn good grades. I always read to my children and, because I am a real reader, they always saw me reading. No matter how tired I was, I always sat down with homework every night. Even though my mom didn’t do that with me, I knew to do it with my kids. It was hardest when all three children were in elementary school. But we got through it!

Q: These days, it seems parents have more school options than ever. Have your children attended school outside their public school? If so, why? And what did you look for in making your decision?

A: My oldest child attended private school from kindergarten through fourth grade at the school I attended when I was a kid. I am unusual because I attended [just about] every kind of school there is: public, Catholic, an independent boarding school, and a private school. At the time that Delysse started going to private school, she was our only child, and I wanted her to have better opportunities; I paid tuition based on my income at that time, so it was affordable. If you are pursuing private education, I think it is important to do your research about available scholarships. The other two kids attended public school throughout their schooling. When my children were just toddlers, I visited local schools and met with the guidance counselors. In essence, I interviewed the schools. I found out about the curriculum and teaching approach. I met teachers and took tours. I felt very good about my decisions because I did my homework.

Q: You went back to school as a Solo Mom. Please share some of the process and what you would tell another Solo Mom about to take this journey.

A: I was still married when I went back to college. College was two nights a week, and my mother and mother-in-law helped with child care. I thought about continuing my education once I became a single mom, but by that time, I had less support. My mother had passed away, and the supports just were not there. My advice to single moms would be to make sure you have a support system before you go back to school—if not relatives, then maybe friends. Also, look for universities that provide child care as part of their program.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of parenting on your own?

A: What has been most rewarding is that my children are straight-A students. They are good people who are gentle, kind, considerate, helpful, and funny. Seeing these qualities in them is very gratifying.

Q: Have you used community resources to enhance your children’s educational experience? If so, which ones have you and your children found most beneficial?

A: While my first child was in school, I learned about a “child study team” that did testing on children, even if your child did not have special needs. She was tested at five and given speech services. The process of assessment was educational for me and Delysse. I remember one time when they were testing her, they asked her to read something. She thought that this meant the people doing the study couldn’t read and that she had to do it for them! I have found that local universities have great resources for parents. For example, Princeton University had an SAT prep course that was free and also provided transportation.

Q: What are your views on standardized testing? How do your children respond to the expectation for them to take multiple standardized exams?

A: I understand the reason for testing, but I don’t think it reflects my children as students. I don’t think that tests should determine a child’s future, but it seems like it does. My other pet peeve is that in many cities, the standardized test keeps changing. It occurs to me that if they aren’t sure about which test works, then maybe they should not test at all.

Photo Credit: Lisa Richardson

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