57-year-old grandma goes back to school

Marcia Degotteue walks onto LaGuardia Community College Campus decked out in dressing pants and a blouse partly hidden by a blue jacket she accessorized with a red- and-white scarf. Marcia is a 57-year-old Jamaican emigrant. Stout, she has a friendly expression and a dark complexion accented by salt-and-pepper hair.

Looking at Marcia among the much younger faces that file back and forth, you would think she is one of the professors. But Marcia is a second-year student studying to become an occupational therapist assistant; and today, Wednesday, she has a test that she needs to review for. So, she opens the door and heads for the library with a wide and confident expression.

What makes Marcia unique is that in addition to going to school full-time, she is also working full-time in a nursing home as a certified nurse¹s aide. Marcia has been working at Concourse Nursing Home as a nurse¹s aide for the past 10 years. She has worked on all the floors and in all the different units. So why does Marcia want to switch from nursing assistant to occupational therapy?

“I was working in the rehab unit and saw how beneficial it was. People came for rehab on short term to restore function. I saw how they improve to become independent,” she said.

Still, Marcia was reluctant to take the step toward occupational therapy given she had spent 10 years as a nurse¹s aide and still aspired to become a nurse. Then one of Marcia¹s friends got injured in an accident that severed her spinal cord. She was confined to a wheel chair and was now staying at a nursing home. On visiting her friend at the nursing home, Marcia saw how the therapist motivated her. “She couldn’t use the bathroom naturally; she had to use several devices. The therapists showed her she could still live her life with adaptive devices. They pushed her and she was motivated.”

Marcia was motivated herself. She now wanted to become an occupational therapist, so she went to speak with the occupational therapist at Concourse Nursing Home about the profession and how she might go about pursuing it. “She told me to go for it, that I could do it, and that she would be my biggest cheerleader.” The therapist recommended LaGuardia Community College as a good place to start, where Marcia has been going for almost two years. When she graduates she will be an occupational therapist assistant, however, Marcia plans is to go to a four year college where she will continue with her study and become an occupational therapist, not just a therapist assistant.

Occupational therapists help individuals and families who are unable to function by themselves due to illness, injury or disability by providing intervention geared toward helping their regaining functioning so they may partake in everyday activities.

Anyone who works full time while going to school fulltime can tell you that it is a daunting task, but Marcia has found a way to do it. She goes to school in the evening, her first class starting at 5:30 and her last class ending at 10 o’clock. Then she takes two trains to get home, and by the time she gets home it’s 11:30. Her program requires her to do field work, which she does two days per week. To maintain her full-time status at her job, Marcia has to work double on weekends, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and a regular 7:00 p.,m. to 3:00 p.m. shift during one of the weekdays is required. But this is not Marcia¹s first experience with going to school and working full-time. While working full time as a nurse¹s aide, Marcia went to Bronx Community College full-time and graduated with an associate degree in health.

Although Marcia is doing well in school, she maintains that going to school full-time and working full-time is not easy. “It’s hard,” she says, “but doable.”

She went on to say that her family and friends support her. Beatrice Awuyah, LPN, says, “Ms. Degotteue is one of the best CNAs. She gives all her patients tender loving care. I have no complaints. In fact, I call her “doctor”.

Angela Lawrence, a nurse’s aide at the nursing home, who herself is going back to school to become a nurse, says, 'Marcia will make it because she has the drive, and she gets along with everybody.'

Marcia lives in the northeast section of the Bronx, off White Plains Road. She is the matriarch of a home with three children and four grand children and a daughter-in-law. She has raised four kids, one who is living on her own, and the three who now live with her.

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