HAVERHILL — Growing up, Kimberly Hudson would create lessons, make tests and correct papers she gave to friends as they played school.
Ever since the second grade, all Stephanie DeSantis could think about was becoming a teacher.
Child's play will soon become their profession. Hudson, 28, and DeSantis, 26, are among 14 women who will graduate Fitchburg State College today, part of a collaboration between the school and Northern Essex Community College.
"I'm just so excited to finally get in the classroom with children to share my passion for education and learning with them," Hudson said.
For the past five years, Hudson, has juggled her teacher's aide job at Walnut Square School with raising chickens and goats at her family farm and raising two children, all while taking up to three classes at Northern Essex in Haverhill.
"I don't just want to teach children, I want to learn with them."
Hudson and DeSantis are in the first group to graduate since the partnership started. To celebrate their achievement, the women got together Thursday at a reception at Northern Essex.
The women, who come from Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and Groveland and the New Hampshire towns of Danville, Hampstead and Plaistow, earned an associate degree from Northern Essex. They then took classes for bachelor's degrees in elementary and early childhood education from Fitchburg State.
DeSantis, a 2000 Lawrence High graduate, spoke to classmates and guests at the reception about her desire to get an education.
She had to postpone her education to get a job and support her son, but her eighth-grade teacher, Mark Ross, urged her to attend college.
"He wasn't someone who looked down on us. We were on an even playing field. He really convinced me by making me feel working for my degree was really worth it," said DeSantis, a kindergarten teacher's aide at Parthum School in Lawrence.