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Speaking for 500,000: Non-traditional community college student from Manchester addresses Maryland legislature

Morgan Barton, a nontraditional student at Carroll Community College from Manchester, testified before the Maryland General Assembly on behalf of community college students across the state on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.
Morgan Barton, a nontraditional student at Carroll Community College from Manchester, testified before the Maryland General Assembly on behalf of community college students across the state on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (Courtesy Photo/ Carroll Community College)

In 2017, Morgan Barton’s son told her it wasn’t fair that he had to do homework when she didn’t. Barton decided to take him up on the challenge and enrolled for the second time in her life at Carroll Community College.

On Tuesday, Barton, 31, of Manchester, represented about 500,000 community college students across the state at the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) Student Advocacy Day before the Maryland General Assembly.

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Student Advocacy Day encourages the state to continue to support “the community college mission: providing affordable access to quality higher education, and preparing the workforce for the careers that keep Maryland businesses, schools, emergency services, and infrastructure running every day,” according to MACC.

It’s the second time in three years Carroll Community has been tapped from among the state’s 16 community colleges to provide the student speaker on Advocacy Day.

The day before she testified, Barton joked to her advisers, “The speeches I give are normally to people who are shorter than I am and they’re required to listen to me. So having to give a speech to delegates, senators, other college presidents and their student leaders, It’s a little intimidating. But I know that when I walk in tomorrow, I will have the best support team behind me and I won’t fail.”

Carroll Community College student Morgan Barton, of Manchester, was selected to be the student speaker out of all 16 Maryland community colleges. Barton spoke to legislators, students and college leaders on Student Advocacy Day at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Carroll Community College student Morgan Barton, of Manchester, was selected to be the student speaker out of all 16 Maryland community colleges. Barton spoke to legislators, students and college leaders on Student Advocacy Day at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Elizabeth S. Homan)

Barton’s educational path was not a simple journey from point A to point B.

The first time Barton enrolled at Carroll in 2008, she had already tried nine months in trade school and a year working. A couple of months into the fall, she found out she was going to be a mother.

“I left college without a word to anyone because I was panicked and received failing grades for the two classes I was in," she told legislators as she addressed them Tuesday.

While she raised her son, she began working at a childcare center and trained to become lead teacher there. That’s where she found her passion for early childhood education.

When she returned to Carroll in 2017, she was different from the student leader her mentors see today.

“My first year at Carroll I walked through the halls with a hood over my head and didn’t talk to people. I went to class and that was it," she told the Times Monday morning.

Carole Williamson, program director of Early Childhood Education said of Barton, " She has such a sense of follow-through. Like, I’ve never seen anybody with this much follow-through.

“She’s such a great mentor to all the other students in the (ECE) club. Everybody can have great ideas. But she really executes everything she says she’s going to execute.”

“As a nontraditional student, a parent, and an Early Childhood Educator, Carroll Community College has given me countless opportunities that other larger universities and colleges would never be able to,” Barton told the Maryland General assembly on Tuesday morning.

Small class sizes led to greater support from instructors and peers.

“I am not just another face in the crowd,” she said. “Maryland community colleges open a door to higher education, not just for current high school graduates, but for everyone.”

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She spoke about the benefits of one-on-one tutoring, peer mentorship, office hours with instructors, public library access and supportive atmosphere that make it possible for her to go after her associate’s degree.

“Being here, it’s not like going to a large university. It’s like coming home," she told the Times the day before speaking to the General Assembly. "This is family. They are supporting you 100 percent. ... Coming into an education field, in addition to being a non-traditional student with a child, having that support is absolutely needed. So I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

The most important member of that support team is her son, Logan.

“He would be very upset with me if I didn’t tell you he was almost as tall as I am,” she said with a laugh. “He is very much the light of my life.” He supports her and also reminds her when its time to put homework away and have family time.

“I want him to see his mom succeed,” she said.

Carroll Community College student Morgan Barton, of Manchester, was selected to be the student speaker out of all 16 Maryland community colleges. Barton spoke to legislators, students and college leaders on Student Advocacy Day at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Carroll Community College student Morgan Barton, of Manchester, was selected to be the student speaker out of all 16 Maryland community colleges. Barton spoke to legislators, students and college leaders on Student Advocacy Day at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Elizabeth S. Homan)

Barton came from a history of domestic violence in her childhood. Her mother single-handedly raised her and her younger brother, and Barton looks up to her as a source of support and a role model.

Financial aid and grants like the Pell Grant and the Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund (CCCPDF) help her to pay for her education. She is a HUD recipient, and her education is one of her goals under THRIVE, a voluntary Family Self-Sufficiency Program for Housing Choice Voucher families.

At Carroll, Barton serves as the president of the Early Childhood Education Club (ECE Club). She organized a domestic violence information event and a film showing for fellow students. She is a mentor in the Lynx-to-Lynx Mentor Program, helping fellow students and volunteers throughout the year at events that help raise scholarship money for fellow students and prepare education students for their field.

As a teacher, she loves to see her students’ “light bulb moments” when they understand something new. Her volunteer work is an extension of that.

“As a community, we need to find what sparks our light bulb moments and use them to brighten every aspect of our world,” she wrote in a personal statement.

In addition to parenthood and school, she works at Almost Family Child Care Center in Hampstead.

After earning her associate’s degree, she plans to continue to another institution for a bachelor’s degree and hopes to one day teach in Carroll County.

Recently, she was named the college’s nominee for the Newman Civic Fellow program, a nationwide program focused on community and civic learning.

Barton hopes to give back to other community college students who are moms and dads like herself, “making sure that they’re not excluded from all of those activities that are offered to us, and making them understand that they can be just as much a part of this college as any other person is.”

Her goal is “support behind support” not just for these parents but for their children.

“The whole goal is to make sure that those kids have someone behind them saying, ‘You can do it.’ Whether it’s a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a sibling, whoever it may be, whoever they’re being taken care of by, they should have support behind them,” she said.

“I try to do everything that I can to give back," Barton said. "I’ve been given so much, in addition to working for so much, that when I do get the chance, I give back tenfold.”

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