AYER -- Ayer resident Clarissa Eaton does not have a lot of time on her hands.

Instead, she has 120 students at her Littleton ballet studio, part-time work as a preschool teacher in Harvard and a steady courseload at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

But now, the 45-year-old mother has a $2,200 scholarship to help with her college tuition. Eaton is one of 10 nationwide recipients of the award from Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society that recognizes adult students.

"It's wonderful," said Eaton, speaking over the phone in the one-hour downtime she has in between teaching ballet classes at her studio, L'Ecole de Ballet. "It's such a relief because now I can take a few more courses next year and not have to worry about the financial aspect of things."

Eaton still has loans to pay for her own children's college education, with a daughter enrolled at Wheaton College in Norton as a senior and a recently graduated son who is now in the Navy.

Eaton left college at 17 to run a dance studio and raise a family as a single mother. A woman she was teaching for offered to sell her the studio, she said, and she decided that was something she wanted to try.

"At the time I didn't tell anyone I was 17, I told them I was 21," she said. "Now I'm willing to admit it."

She always wanted to go back to school, she said, but could not do it until her children were older and self-supporting.

"It's been a goal of mine for 25 years, but it's only lately that I've actually been able to do it," she said.


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"It's something that I always wanted to finish but life kind of took over."

Eaton is also an assistant director for the ballet company Dance Prism and works at the Thoreau Society.

As a student in UMass Lowell's Division of Online and Continuing Education, Eaton takes classes both online and on campus. She is in her junior year, majoring in English and psychology.

She would eventually like to get her master's degree in community social psychology.

"Instead of my part-time jobs I'd love to maybe be able to work with members of the military and their families," she said.

But she would still plan to keep the studio running, admitting that she wouldn't know what to do if she only had one job.

UMass Lowell nominated Eaton for the scholarship for her academic success: She has a 4.0 grade point average despite all of her commitments.

Going back to college was a little daunting at first, she said, but the second she stepped in the classroom she felt it was exactly where she belonged.

"There were other people like me that were going back to school," she said. "There's so many different people in the classes that it actually adds to the caliber in the class to have that many varieties of life experience and age."

Coincidentally, one of her ballet students, age 18, is in her statistics class.

Her professors have been wonderful about letting her do work ahead of time, particularly in the busy recital season in June, she said.

"In the spring I spend a lot of time preparing for the recital, and I just work the rest of my schedule around that," she said.

While Eaton is knocking out a full course in two weeks during the winter, her daughter, on break from school, picks up the classes at the studio.

"It kind of takes a family to make this all work," she said.

Eaton is finally working toward her long-held goal, now that her children have had their turn in academia.

"When they were very young, they were intending to go to college," she said. "They just think it's the coolest thing that I finally get to go back."

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