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Helen Carter

Helen Carter's statueHelen Carter Statue BackHelen Carter and family

Pasadena City College: A Family Affair For The Carters

Helen Carter knew all along that one day she'd go back to school. She enrolled a couple of times, but working two jobs to provide for her family, the mother of five was just too busy for classes and homework assignments. After her kids were old enough, Helen enrolled at Pasadena City College in early 2000 and planned to get her teaching credentials. Her academic plans evolved as various professors inspired her to pursue different avenues.

Her example, however, inspired her children to follow her lead. That made the Carters one of PCC's best-represented families: Her daughter Hadiyah marched in PCC's Robinson Stadium for commencement in 2007 and received an English degree; and her younger son, Thomas, is a business administration major and the recipient of various scholarships, including the prestigious Transfer Alliance Project/Jack Kent Cooke Summer Internship at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Mom has been telling me to go back to school for the past seven years," says Thomas says. "I was working full time, and every time I wanted a different job she would say, 'It's time to go back to school.' I never put my foot down and did it, until I realized she was up for graduation. My mother, my sister, everybody but me? I can’t be left behind, this is not right," Thomas says, smiling.

"Turns out, we are all here together,” Thomas adds, “I wasn't even thinking about that until it dawned on me that, wow, we are all planning our semester, at the same time, at the same campus! It's really weird, it brings value to PCC. I'm just elated to have this experience, not many people are able to say that they are going to school simultaneously with a sibling and a parent."

In the spring of 2007, the Carters had the same English 1C teacher; mom and daughter even attended the same class.

"It was kind of funny, a bit awkward at first. My mom had never treated me as a student, and vice versa," Hadiyah says. "I'm not as talkative as she is; it was funny to watch her engage in conversations about the books we were reading in class. It was kind of surreal."

"My mother inspired me to return to school, not just for myself but for my daughter. I work in the day and go to class at night," Hadiyah says. "Yet, I cannot imagine taking a class with my daughter 20 years from now."

Mom Helen is not too surprised about her family's academic achievements.

"I knew that eventually my kids would have taken the same road and return to school," she says. "They'd be out there in the working world, until they'd eventually say, 'I don't want a job, I want a career.' "

As for her own academic goals, there is one thing she knows for sure.

"This time I'm not stopping!" Helen says. "At first, I had decided that, since I like children, teaching would be something I like to do. I changed my mind after taking a sociology class with Professor Kamera Arida. Her dedication was contagious."

After earning her degree, Helen will honor her first great teacher.

"When I get my diploma in the fall I'll give it to my mom. She is the backbone of our family. My mom often wondered what it would have been like if she could have gone to school, but she didn't have the opportunity. Education wasn't the same thing back then."

“My mom”, she adds, "was a great teacher, and she didn't even know it."

Helen is not a bad teacher herself. Aside from her two soon-to-graduate children at PCC, she has two other daughters in school. Tawana is studying business administration at the University of Phoenix, and Shahidah is at Cal State Dominguez Hills pursuing a degree in psychology.