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Jewish World Review April 6, 2001 / 13 Nissan, 5761

Jennifer Lawson

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Consumer Reports

How a mom of eight goes to school and works, too -- OAKRIDGE, Tenn. -- June McClanahan thinks if she sat down and took stock of the schedule she keeps, it might threaten her mental health, so she just doesn't think about it.

McClanahan earned a 3.9 grade point average last semester at Pellissippi State Technical Community College where she's studying computer science. She also works as an intern at Knoxville's Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters three days a week.

On top of all that, she's a divorced mother raising eight, yes eight, children ages 5 to 19.

"I've been doing this for so long, I don't think about it," McClanahan said. "Because I'm right here in the middle of it, I don't see what you guys see. If I sat down and thought about what all I'm doing, I'd go crazy."

Her schedule goes something like this. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she works as a TVA Internet Services intern from 6:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. On Monday and Wednesday nights, she has class at Pellissippi. Tuesday and Thursday, she's in classes from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Her courses include calculus, computer data structures, HTML programming and advanced Web graphics. At night, she cooks, does at least two loads of laundry each week day (six per day on weekends) and studies.

She doesn't need much sleep. She often works on her computer until 11 p.m. or later before going to bed and then rises at 4:45 a.m. On Saturdays and Sundays she makes herself stay in bed until 8 a.m., she said.

All her children play basketball - like their father did in college - soccer, or both. Although she was never much of a basketball player, it's her hobby.

"When I'm not at school, I'm at ball games," she said, browning a big skillet of hamburger for tacos before leaving for school on a recent evening. "Every day of the week, somebody's doing something."

She has wanted to work with computers as long as she can remember and majored in computer science at Roane State Community College before switching to waste management.

McClanahan, 36, worked at the Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information from 1981 to 1997. The environmental impact of waste management was a hot topic at DOE while she attended Roane State, so she changed her major. But soon after she earned her associate's degree in 1994, DOE began freezing positions and eventually started laying off workers. She was laid off in 1997.

"The layoff notice, that just really helped me make my decision. I've always been in school one way or another," she said. "I'm looking at this as a blessing, because I'm finally going to get to do what I love to do."

A number of helpers make McClanahan's seemingly impossible schedule possible.

She calls her mother, Fannie Mae Henderson, and her brother, Jeremiah Henderson, her "backbone."

Family taking care of family is a tradition the McClanahan children inherited from their mom. She was born in Oak Ridge, one of 14 children - eight boys and six girls. McClanahan has raised her children to be independent and responsible. If she had to wait on them, she said, she'd never be able to finish school. Her second and third oldest daughters take over as mom whenever she's gone. Her oldest, Jasmine, attends Cumberland College.

"They know what they're supposed to do," she said. "I never have to say 'You watch them' - they just assume the role."

The responsibility her children carry builds character, she said. Balanced with lots of love and support from her, their uncle, grandmother and community programs, they thrive. They're all on the honor roll.

"They're pretty much happy. Their thing is trying always to be around me," she said.

She hears the compliments from their friends' parents after they've ridden along to a ball game or spent the night. They're polite, friendly and respectful. They make the bed and pick up the room, even though it's not theirs. They clear their dishes from the dinner table, put them in the sink and will wash them, unless told not to.

"I came home one night and the 5 and 7 year old were in here cleaning up the kitchen," McClanahan said. That's one thing I really take pride in. I'm just really thankful I have support from the kids."

She's already earned her second associate's degree, this one from Pellissippi State in computer science. She continues to take classes to earn transfer credits for the University of Tennessee. McClanahan said most good computer jobs require a bachelor's degree and experience, which means two more years of school. Eventually, she'd like to own her own computer programming and Web design business.

Jennifer Lawson writes for The Knoxville News-Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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