July 2, 2019
Catherine Ellsworth '19 and Tyler Ellsworth '19 earned their bachelor's degrees together through MCLA's Degree Completion program. Both educators, "we're going back for our master's," says Catherine.
When Tyler and Catherine Ellsworth read MCLA’s ivy poem at the College’s annual Baccalaureate celebration this year, it was a culmination of broken ground: The mother and son were the first duo to read the poem in MCLA history. Tyler is the first in four generations on his father’s side to earn a college degree. Both Tyler and Catherine will be using their new degrees to advance their careers as educators. And they did it together, every step of the way.
“We went through every step of the cohort together,” says Catherine, referencing MCLA’s degree completion program, which follows a cohort model where the same group of nontraditional students follow the same class structure. “Every class. All the homework.”
Catherine, an assistant teacher at Becket-Washington School, got them into it after hearing about the degree completion program from a teacher she worked with. The college credits she earned in 1982 counted toward her degree, she discovered; she started her new journey with a summer environmental studies class, and Tyler packed her lunches and sat with her to debrief once school was out.
She convinced Tyler, who was then in his last semester earning an associate degree from Berkshire Community College, to continue on toward his bachelor’s degree with her. “I said, Tyler, this is a once in a lifetime chance. I talked him right into doing this with me,” Catherine said.
Living in Peru, Mass., with Tyler working part-time at Stop and Shop, taking care of the animals at his farm, Ellsworth Acres, and straddling two full-time course loads at first, one at MCLA and one at BCC, “was very overwhelming—plus I just had a litter of piglets born,” said Tyler (the animals from Ellsworth Acres often visit with children at places like Dower Square Apartments in Pittsfield). “You just have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
They helped keep each other focused, spending hours at their dining room table doing homework; waking up early on snow days to make sure they could take advantage of sometimes spotty mountain Internet access; and attending classes in Pittsfield every Wednesday night. “That one night a week is what played a big role in my decision—besides her,” said Tyler, referring to his mom.
Now, they both have degrees in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on family and children. Tyler will continue his job as a kindergarten paraprofessional at Stearns Elementary School in Pittsfield, and would like to pursue his kindergarten teacher licensure next. Catherine would like to open her own preschool someday. “We’re going back for our master’s,” she said.
Right before graduation, Tyler gave his mother a gift—a bracelet engraved with the words “defy gravity” to mark the occasion. Now, “I’m just defying gravity,” Catherine said. “I can do anything. I’m proud that we did it together.”