“My children, who are in different phases of college, always say ‘I’m behind! I’m behind! I’ve got to hurry up!’ My response to that is always ‘You’re not behind! Your mother was 44 years old when she graduated. You’re not behind,’” says Debra Davenport, Athens State alumna and 6th– 8thgrade Language Arts teacher at Saint Ann School in Decatur. Debra is living proof that it’s never too late to finish what you start. Not only did she return to Athens State in her 40’s to finish her bachelor’s degree, but she completed it while simultaneously working and homeschooling her six children.
A native of Decatur, Alabama, Debra attended Calhoun Community College and then transferred to Athens State University at 19 years old. Shortly thereafter, she got married and decided to quit college to focus on beginning a family. Nineteen years later, she was ready to pick up right where she left off. “It wasn’t easy,” Debra recalled of the challenge of going back to college after so many years. “I have six kids and used to homeschool them, so they were with me all the time. I was also going through a divorce, so it was a really, really hard time.”
Developing a system to stay organized was one of the ways Debra was able to balance college life with homeschooling her children. “I had a planner and would plan to do all of my school work when the kids were with their daddy. We shared them half and half, so every four days my schedule consisted of coming to classes, doing online coursework, and cleaning houses for my income.” Debra made sure to make her kids a priority throughout her college experience. She emphasized how important it was for her family that she take her time in finishing her degree instead of rushing through it. “I structured my schedule to where when the kids were with me, I was just Mom unless I absolutely had to go to a class or go do something,” Debra said. “It took a long time to get my last two years done. It took me four years because I did not want to stress my kids out or myself.” Debra graduated from Athens State in 2014 with a degree in education.
After homeschooling each of her children for 12 years, Debra had no intentions of ever becoming a teacher. She found the teaching process to be overwhelming and was considering a career in marketing instead. “When I called and talked to the advisors at Athens State, they said that I had several credits in education and that teachers are always in demand. So I thought I’d try it out and see how it goes. Once I got back into the education classes, I fell in love with it. Especially after going out to observe other teachers for the first time,” Debra stated. She now teaches 6th– 8thgrade Language Arts at Saint Ann School. The school holds a special place in her heart – Debra attended it when she was a child and also goes to the parish that supports the school. “I love it. I really, really love teaching,” Debra gushed. “I will be teaching for a really long time.”
Attending Athens State made powerful impacts on Debra’s life that she still treasures today. “Every person on the faculty and staff was helpful, kind, very forthcoming to be helpful, and I never felt like a number,” Debra reflected. “I loved coming to class. I loved this campus. Even with my online classes, I always had plenty of help and I never felt that I was just floating out there with no guidance. I wish going to college was a profession. I would just do that. I love taking classes and going to school.”
Debra encourages students to strive to be lifelong learners because having a well-rounded education is more valuable than all the money in the world. “I tell my students all the time, the difference between you and the children in poverty in other countries is your education. Don’t complain about your education. Be thankful for it every day.” She also adds, “Having a full life of success is not measured by the money you make. College opens your mind up to be able to understand the human experience and relate to your fellow human beings better. I would say go. Don’t be scared, and go no matter how old you are. You can do it.”