It is hard to believe that the bright, cheerful playroom once housed the only food service provider on campus. Replacing the din of silverware clinking and the clatter of serving pans is the joyful noise of children giggling, playing and learning in the new Child Development Center at Texas A&M International University.
Completely revamped with warm yellow walls and multi-color paper cutouts, cribs and soft rugs, the Center is home to some of the youngest members of the TAMIU community and was created with the assistance of a four-year grant totaling $98,984 from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education.
Lizzette de la Garza and Melissa Hernandez, both juniors in the College of Education, play with one-and-a-half year-old Ricky, their only ward on an early Tuesday morning.
"Come back at 2:45," says Hernandez. "It's crazy then."
De la Garza agrees, explaining, "We like it when we have more kids. It's more interesting."
But the two young women seem to be enjoying themselves despite the relative quiet of the Center. Ricky is learning to throw, tossing a small yellow ball to each of the girls.
"He's left-handed," one of them points out. He lobs an over-hand toss that makes it halfway across the room.
Both girls work four hours a day, while taking summer session classes. They explain that most of the parents who use the Center are undergraduates and moms. It is obvious that they enjoy their time with the children, encouraging Ricky to put the right shape toy in the box, or reading him a story.
"It's a little bit hard [taking classes and working], but that's okay because I think it's the best job," De la Garza says. "I love kids and this is going to help us in the future."
Students at TAMIU have frequently expressed their desire for affordable, accessible childcare. In the past, professors noted that students frequently missed class or brought young children with them due to a lack of childcare solutions. In 2000, the Office of Student Services conducted a survey and found 60% of respondents would utilize campus childcare.
The Department of Education grant is under the Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS) Program, which is dedicated to supporting at-risk parents' participation in postsecondary education by providing campus-based childcare services. The grant provides seed money to support facility renovation, staffing and materials to meet state and national guidelines for a developmentally appropriate child development center.
Dr. Linda Medearis, chair of the College of Education's Department of Special Populations and director of the Center, said that the goal of TAMIU's center is not only to help students with children participate in higher education, but also to improve the quality of the child's life over all. To that end, in order to have one's child utilize the center, one must either be enrolled in or have taken either Child Development or Parenting--freshmen and sophomore courses offered by the College of Education. Graduate students have the option of taking Child Development at the graduate level.
"The idea," said Dr. Medearis, "is to improve the quality of care the child receives overall. I also look at a person's transcripts and see if there are other courses they've taken that can be applied to this requirement. These two courses are part of the field of study for all of the College of Education degrees, except secondary education, so they're offered frequently."
The Center opened this summer and currently serves 13 children, who are either infants or toddlers. Mayra Blanco, coordinator of the Center, said the facility, currently located in Dr. Billy F. Cowart Hall, is expected to grow and expand over the next three years.
"We began this summer with a small group of infants and toddlers for the first year. Next year, we will expand to include up to three-year-olds and then four-to five-year-olds thereafter. We hope to eventually serve in excess of 150 children, and move to a stand alone facility on campus, " Blanco explained.
Although the Center has only been open for a short time, it has already been singled out for accolades. Medearis said Karina Mendoza of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services wants to feature the Center in a nationwide campaign.
"Out of 180 childcare centers in Laredo, we were the only ones chosen. The Department will film a "mock" inspection visit, interview some of our staff and parents, and film general activities of the children at the center and on the playground. We're very excited that the film will be used both nationally and at the state level," said Medearis.
Ricky's not worried about his future as a film star, however. He just keeps practicing those southpaw pitches, while his mom pursues the dream of higher education, knowing that he's in good hands.
For additional information on the Texas A&M International University Child Development Center, please contact Mayra Blanco at 326.2001 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.