Uplifting parents: From mentee to math teacher

November 18, 2020

When Tyresha Riquelmy-Yankton first entered Catholic Social Services’ Uplifting Parents Program (UP) in 2019, she was hesitant about the mentoring that she would be asked to do twice each month with a UP mentor.

“At first I thought, ‘I don’t need anyone to talk to, I’m fine!’” Tyresha said. But as she started to get to know her mentors in the UP program, her feelings about the value of mentoring began to change. “Just having an outside person out of your life that will not judge you … it made a way bigger difference than I thought.”

CSS created UP in 2014, with funding from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, to help low-income single mothers like Tyresha finish college and move out of poverty through education.

To qualify for UP, participants must be a single parent with minor children and be within two years of completing a post-secondary degree. In the spring of 2020, Tyresha was one of 19 UP participants who finished a college degree.

Tyresha was a senior in high school when she got pregnant with her daughter, Havana, who is now 5. The pregnancy changed her plans to attend South Dakota State University in Brookings, and she chose, instead, to stay in town to pursue her education. She opted to live with family members while she worked full-time and went to school full-time at Oglala Lakota College Rapid City campus.

“It was hard. There wasn’t a lot of time to do homework,” she said. Soon after, Tyresha found out she was pregnant with her son, Koa, 4. Finances were tight, and making ends meet was a constant source of stress. “Formula is expensive, and car troubles felt like the end of the world. I felt no sense of security.”

Tyresha was in her junior year at OLC, pursuing a degree in K-12 Education, when she learned about the UP program. In addition to mentorship, UP provides a small monthly stipend as well as intensive case management services and resources for both parents and children.

“I made a promise to myself when I was younger that I would bring good to this world, and I felt the most effective way to do that would be to teach the future generations.” Tyresha Riquelmy-Yankton, participant in Uplifting Parents Program, Catholic Social Services Rapid City.

“UP helped the most with a sense of peace,” says Tyresha. “Having a community or network behind me if I needed it—you just can’t put a price on feeling like things are more secure. The stipend went toward daycare for kids.”

Tyresha knew she would not be able to work during her last semester while she was student teaching. “I had to save up to plan for this semester,” she says.

She started her student teaching experience in a middle school classroom and was about to transfer to an elementary school when schools closed and switched to online learning platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The biggest thing in the classroom is building relationships with the kids, which is hard to do online,” she says. “I did learn a lot about technology!”

Tyresha encourages other single parents to pursue a college degree — sooner rather than later. “When you look at the facts of having a college degree versus not, the difference in the amount of money you make over a lifetime is huge,” she said. “I hated asking people to watch the kids because I felt guilty. But if you can ask someone to help, you have to do it. If you put it off, you’re never going to get to it. There’ll always be a reason not to go.”

Tyresha graduated from OLC in May with a degree in education. She has accepted a position in the fall at a Rapid City middle school, teaching 6th grade math and science.

“My dream has always been to make a positive change with my life. I made a promise to myself when I was younger that I would bring good to this world, and I felt the most effective way to do that would be to teach the future generations. I love seeing students learn and grow into the adults they will be someday. Teachers are some of the most influential people in this world, and I am so excited to bring love and light to my students,” she said.

“I’m excited and scared to see how different my life will be in a year. I’ll be at the end of my first year of teaching…I’ll feel like an adult! It’ll be a chance to breathe. For so long it’s just been working hard and surviving.”

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