Even with a career, a husband and two children of her own, Jamie McRae was still hearing about homework from her mother, Tina Haney.
In 2013, both McRae and Haney earned a Master of Education in School Counseling through Lamar University’s online program. Haney finished her coursework in February, but she waited to walk in the August graduation ceremony with McRae, who completed the degree program in June.
“Getting back into school mode was a challenge, but it was fun to have her working on the degree at the same time,” McRae said. “We’d bounce ideas off each other. My mom was my built-in study partner. It was incredible to be able to work on our degree together.”
Haney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1991, said going through the online program with her daughter was a factor in her success after the long layoff from school.
“I would recommend anyone obtaining a degree online have some type of buddy,” Haney said. “You don’t have that interaction of sitting in the classroom and conversing with the other students, but I think if you have a friend or someone you know you partner with, that truly enriches the journey.”
Haney and McRae live 250 miles apart but made the trip for graduation day together. Haney, who lives in Mabank near the Dallas area, travelled to Alvin, which is 100 miles from Lamar University, the day before the ceremony.
“I don’t know if I would have gone all of the way to Beaumont and walked if it had been just me by myself, but having my mom by my side made it really special for our family and for my kids to see what she had accomplished,” McRae said. “To go back later in life and obtain a degree was a huge accomplishment for both of us. It made it even more special for us to do it together.”
Haney said McRae convinced her that walking the stage together was important. McRae saw it as an opportunity to show her children, Jacob and Landry, and her nephew Gavin that she and her mother were lifelong learners fulfilling a desire for knowledge.
“Graduation was fun. Seeing it again from an older adult’s perspective, looking into the faces of the young graduates, knowing this is the beginning of their new journey made me excited for them,” Haney said.
Neither Haney nor McRae planned on a career in school counseling. Or even teaching.
“My husband [Tom] and I worked together for twenty-some years,” Haney said. “We have our own business. He’s an engineering consultant, so with my degree in accounting we were the perfect team. Our kids grew up, and I just really missed being around the kids. I taught Sunday school and was involved with the youth group. We were actively involved in our children’s lives as far as sports and academics. I really missed that.”
Haney, 56, started teaching in 2008 after McRae urged her to give it a shot. Haney acquired an alternative certification. She developed an interest in counseling while teaching at North Forney High School and landed a job as counselor at Mabank Junior High School.
“I started noticing the students would come visit with me and talk with me,” Haney said. “I was doing some research on how to guide them in the areas of academics as well as personal skills. I just really felt a calling. It felt comfortable.”
McRae, 35, earned a marketing degree in 2003. After playing basketball in high school, she was looking for a career in sports marketing.
“I struggled to find a job,” McRae said. “I was young and just out of college with no experience. I started to stress that I didn’t have a job. My husband [Larry] said, ‘Get your alternative certification and teach and coach until you find what it is you really want to do.’ I did that and never looked back. I really just fell into it, and it has been a huge blessing.”
McRae was hired as a counselor at Manvel High School just four classes into her master’s degree. She has been with the school for 12 years, initially coaching basketball and track and field, and teaching business and business law.
“I stopped coaching basketball officially; then I coached girls’ track for six years,” McRae said. “Once I began my counseling degree and one of my little track superstars earned a gold medal at the state meet, I felt it was time to hang up the whistle and just work on counseling."
Alvin, Mabank, Beaumont
The online format was the only realistic option for McRae to continue working full-time and attend school.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to work and get that master’s degree if I was required to go to class,” McRae said. “It was amazing to be able to keep my full-time job. At the time, I was coaching, teaching classes and had two little babies, so it was crazy.”
She credits her ability to make her own schedule to the online format.
“I typically completed school work at night. Once I got the kids taken care of and in the bed, I was able to log in and do all of my reading and my discussion boards when I had quiet time. It was so doable.”
For Haney, everything she was looking for in a master’s degree added up to Lamar University online.
“I started researching opportunities and universities,” she said. “We’re in a rural area an hour from Dallas. Online was the best option for me. I didn’t want to commute an hour. I started comparing academics and looking at school ratings and their programs. Lamar kept coming up as one that looked very promising and had some strong academics.”
McRae said having input from all of her fellow students enhanced the experience.
“My mom and I were in different classes, so we were able to bounce different ideas off of each other,” McRae said. “It was a lot of fun. We also had a Facebook group, which was really helpful. Everyone in your cohort joined the Facebook group and were able to message, talk to each other and ask each other questions. With distance learning, you don’t have that professor right there face to face. But having those online boards really helped connect you.”
Haney said having her daughter with her in the program also helped her with the pace.
“We would do our videos online with our professors, do our discussion and, basically, for a year-and-a-half, all we did was Lamar,” Haney said. “It’s a very intense program. A lot of people think if you do something online, it’s not as difficult or you don’t get the depth out of it, but after going through this program, I really disagree with that. I think it was very intense, it took a lot of time and it was a lot of hard work. Jamie and I had conversations and emailed back and forth when we were working on projects.”
“Just having that family support — especially from our husbands — was important. They were both so willing to pick up the slack. It took a lot of time. It’s really nice to have spouses who encourage you,” they said.
The entire family helped these two moms stay the course throughout the degree program. McRae said her children, Jacob (9) and Landry (6), still remember seeing them graduate together.
“They were young,” McRae said. “I talked to them about it the other day and asked them if they remember seeing us graduate. They said, ‘Oh, yeah, we remember seeing you and Nana in your funny hats!’ I know it was special for my mom to conquer something like that a little later in life.”
Additionally, on McRae’s urging, her husband went back to school and earned a Master of Education online from Lamar University so that he could fulfill his goal of being a head football coach. He is now the head football coach and campus athletic director at Clear Lake High School.
“He did it,” McRae said. “It was really easy for him to manage his time, even with all of the hours of coaching. He is definitely the better student. He breezed right through it and did really well.
“A lot of our coworkers have completed the online program at Lamar. Alvin ISD has a partnership with Lamar University. I tell everyone how much we loved it and how it is a great option with your full-time working schedule.”
Both Haney and McRae are glad they made the decision to go back to school and become school counselors.
“I love my career … to me it’s not a job because I really do love it,” Haney said. “A lot of that comes from where I work. I have the most amazing principal and support staff. My teachers and I are very close. My principal [Barbie Conrad] is very supportive. We really encourage building relationships with the students and letting them know they are important and we believe in them. I feel a great satisfaction in that I am giving back to my community by serving our students.”
McRae said her only regret was that she didn’t start earlier.
“My advice to others would be not to wait. Hurry. Sign up. Do it now!” McRae said. “I wish I had started earlier. If you’re already working on your degree, reach out to the other members of your cohort or reach out to the professors if you have questions. Don’t be afraid because they are counselors and educators, as well. They’re great people who want you to be successful and grow in your profession.”
Now, Haney and McRae also have an even stronger mother-daughter bond.
“To share that experience and journey with your daughter — I really saw her in such a different perspective,” Haney said. “As a parent, you believe your children are intelligent, you have that parental outlook of them. Then, to share an experience where we are actually working together, having stimulating conversations and seeing the depth she’s bringing, I see Jamie in a totally different perspective. It was then, I thought 'Wow'. How impressive. That’s my daughter.'”
Learn more about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in School Counseling program.
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