Middlebury woman makes the best of her second shot at a diploma
MIDDLEBURY — Christina Frost of Middlebury acknowledges she could have followed a more conventional blueprint for her life.
But an early pregnancy and the desire to escape a household rife with substance abuse sent her on a circuitous path that, at age 27, is finally leading her to a happy, healthy family of her own; an education; and the prospect of a job in social work, through which she hopes to help others avoid some of her missteps.
Frost credited her rebound to her own perseverance and to a flexible education program devised by the Community College of Vermont (CCV), Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) and the Parent-Child Center of Addison County. So instead of hitting the job market as a 10th-grade dropout, Frost’s resumé will soon reflect a high school diploma, an associate’s degree in Human Services and a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.
“I always told my dad I would graduate from high school, that I would either get my diploma or a GED,” Frost said. “It has been a goal of mine for a long time. I knew that once my kids were able to go to school or child care, I would go back and finish school.”
There were some major bumps along the way.
Life at home was challenging, to say the least. Frost, who wasn’t raised in Addison County, said her mom and dad were both battling addiction, so she was forced to grow up early. While her friends were focused on homework and learning how to drive, she was taking a primary role in raising her five siblings.
“I always told myself I was going to be a better person than my mom and dad were,” she said of her motivation.
But she eventually reached the end of her rope. At age 15 she dropped out of Leland & Gray Union High School in Townsend and moved in with her future husband, Shawn Frost. She gave birth to the first of their four children at age 17. She put her education on hold to take care of their son as they hopped around Vermont and other parts of the country, eventually laying down roots in Middlebury in 2011. The couple had lived in Addison County for a while back in 2006.
“(Middlebury) is a nice area; we have friends here,” Frost said. “Middlebury has that nice community feel, with a lot of resources available.”
Frost had become familiar with the Parent-Child Center back in 2006. That year, she was among the young moms learning parenting skills and setting the foundation for a life of self-sufficiency. She enrolled in an alternative education program at the child center in hopes of earning her diploma.
“But it didn’t happen,” she said solemnly. “I ended up getting pregnant with my second child (in spite of taking precautions).”
She got a second chance when she and her family returned to Middlebury in 2011, and she wasn’t going to pass it up. So in 2012, she pursued her diploma with help from the Parent-Child Center, VAL and Middlebury Union High School.
“I knew I couldn’t be in a normal school setting,” Frost said of her age and incompatibility with the teen scene. “But I knew I needed a normal schedule to follow.”
The Parent-Child Center gave her a schedule to follow, and Vermont Adult Learning coordinated the coursework she would need in a timeframe and pace she could handle in conjunction with her other responsibilities. She learned the core academic subjects, such as math, reading and writing, as well as parenting skills.
Frost was afforded a flexible schedule that helped her earn her diploma in 2013. And she didn’t want to stop there. But again, she was a little intimidated at first about the prospect of being a full-time student while being a full-time mom and spouse.
“Being a full-time mom, I knew I couldn’t go and have the full-time college experience that everybody else was having,” Frost said. “But CCV offers on-line classes as well as on-the-ground classes. That was pretty much my option, so I started at CCV right after I graduated from high school.”
MATURITY CAN RUB OFF
Anya Schwartz is coordinator of academic services for CCV Middlebury and CCV on-line. She has also served as Frost’s college advisor. She said the academic partnership involving CCV, the parent-child center and VAL has centered around a course called “Introduction to College Studies.” This is a course that, among other things, gives students a sense of the rigors and expectations of the college curriculum. CCV provides a flexible schedule for Parent-Child Center and VAL students to take the course. Schwartz noted many of these students — like Frost — end up becoming inspired by the experience and decide to take additional courses to earn a degree.
Schwartz praised Frost for being a dedicated student who has served as a role model for others committed to continuing their education.
“She is someone who, when she sets her mind to doing something, it’s going to happen,” Schwartz said of Frost. “She exemplifies the ‘skilled juggler’ CCV student.”
Schwartz noted it’s more customary for adult students to take a course or two per semester. So needless to say, she was surprised to see Frost take five classes during one recent semester.
“Last fall she asked me, ‘Am I crazy to want to take five classes?’” Schwartz recalled. “I said, ‘If anyone can do it, you can.’”
And CCV officials like to have students like Frost, who bring a maturity that can rub off on some of their younger classmates.
“They are adults and have thought about what they want for their lives,” Schwartz said. “Some of them say, ‘I want to do this for my kid.’”
Frost has been fortunate, in that CCV’s Middlebury location has offered most of the courses she’s needed for her Human Services degree.
“I have only had to travel for three of my classes throughout my whole CCV career,” Frost said, noting classes she’s taken at the school’s Rutland and Winooski campuses.
“It’s been stressful, to say the least,” Frost conceded of the complexity of being a full-time student, mom and shuttle service to her kids’ sporting events. She has faithfully attended a variety of baseball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics and dance practices and competitions for children Dylan, 10; Hailey, 9; Madison, 7; and David, 6. Making the sports rounds with the children is a big reason why she can’t take evening courses.
Shawn is employed full-time and also shares the responsibilities.
In this, her final semester, Frost will be taking many of her math requirements, including statistics. She must also complete 80 hours of community service with a local human services organization. She’d like to work with Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE), Head Start, or Elderly Services Inc.
If she passes all three of her final courses — and with her track record, there’s no reason to believe she won’t — Frost will earn an associate’s degree in Human Services, which will punch her ticket to Castleton State College. There, she will take courses toward a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, through which she hopes to land a job counseling young folks to — among other things — avoid some of the detours she took in her life.
Not that she’s unhappy with her life; far from it.
“The only change I would have made is I would have had my children a little bit later,” she said. “But it happened that way, and I can’t change it, so you move forward with the rest of your life.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Frost would like to land a job at either the Parent-Child Center or the Department for Children and Families.
“When I first decided I wanted to be a social worker, I wanted to work with abused children,” she said, though her focus changed when she learned of some of the root causes of child abuse.
“I’d like to work with families of addicts who need support,” she said. “I want to help (those suffering from addiction) to get clean and raise their children the way they should be raised and give them the opportunities they should have.”
Frost is appreciative of the support that she, her husband and kids received when they got their start.
They were able to find a low-cost, reliable place to stay in transitional housing on North Pleasant Street operated by the Charter House Coalition. They are now renting a home off Route 7.
“We are planning on buying a home in Middlebury within the next couple of years,” Frost said.
And she’d like to stick around and avoid another round of frequent moves.
“I am adamant with my husband that I will not move my kids out of the school they are in because I bounced around a lot when I was a child and I don’t want them having to do that,” she said.
The family is getting more plugged in to the community every day. Shawn is a member of the Middlebury Fire Department and Christina has established herself as a leader within the CCV student community. Jennifer Stefani, CCV office manager and financial aid counselor, said Frost has organized student potluck meals, set up a CCV Facebook page, and is a mentor who is advising other students on what courses they might take. She also is organizing a CCV team for Green Up Day this coming May, and performs work-study duties at the front desk of the college’s Middlebury office.
Frost is quite content with where her life is headed.
“All in all, things are good,” she said. “I like where we are (as a family), and I like where I am with my education. All my kids are happy and healthy and well taken care of. I can’t complain. We have a roof over our head, clothes on our back and food on the table.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]