Campus child care provides 'perfect fit'
Sandra Hardy was a stay-at-home mom in November 2008 when her husband was temporarily laid off. Months later she found a job with the School of Nursing, but this left her wondering how to care for her then-3-year-old son, Ethan.
That's when Hardy found out about the U-M Children's Center, one of four child care centers on the Ann Arbor campus.
"My son had never been in a child care center or pre-school environment and I worried about finding the perfect fit for my high standards and for his personality in such a short period of time," says Hardy, who also has two daughters, ages 9 and 11. "Fortunately, I found out about UMCC and it was love at first sight."
She met the director, Martha Kazmierzak, who offered a tour of the facilities, including the classrooms and the playgrounds. Hardy also met quite a few of the teachers.
"(Kazmierzak) was also very accommodating regarding a transition schedule for my son to ease his way from being at home with mommy to full-time child care," Hardy says. "By the morning of his first full day at the center he gave me a kiss and ran off to his classroom. I don't know what I would have done if I had not found UMCC."
In addition to UMCC, U-M Ann Arbor child care centers include the Northwood Community Child Development Center, Towsley Children's House and the U-M Health System Child Care Center.
UM-Flint offers the Flint Early Childhood Development Center and UM-Dearborn has the Dearborn Child Development Center.
The Campus Child Care Homes Network also provides a choice of 14 licensed child care homes caring for 150 children. These homes offer flexible hours and affordable rates.
"Balancing home life and work is a challenge," says Jennie McAlpine, director of Work/Life Programs. "(U-M child care) helps parents be their best self at work and at home."
It leads to a more productive, engaged and loyal work force that is healthier and less stressed, she says. It also improves university recruitment and retention.
At UMCC, children learn through a play-based, social environment with an educational component, says Kazmierzak, who has worked in the field of early childhood education for more than 30 years. Teachers plan weekly for children and focus on each child's cognitive ability, as well as their emotional, social and physical growth.
Children have the opportunity to experience and create with a variety of art and sensory materials. They discover through projects that involve math and scientific thinking, such as building with blocks or learning about the ocean, space or the rainforest. Children come together daily to sing, listen to stories, reflect about their world and ask questions. The outside playgrounds offer not only a sense of nature, but space to climb, run, slide, ride a bike or play in the sand.
Child care can be costly. For example, the cost for full-time care for an infant at the university centers is $16,800 per year, McAlpine says. Financial assistance programs are available, such as the Child Care Tuition Grant (CCTG) and the U-M Child Care Subsidy Program for Students.
CCTG is available at child care centers on central and north campuses, and is determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines for Washtenaw County based on family size and median income.
The U-M Child Care Subsidy Program for Students provides funds to undergraduate and graduate students to assist them in meeting the cost of licensed child care provided at a child care center, family child care home or group child care home. For more information about these programs, go to hr.umich.edu/worklife/childcare/moneymatters.html.
Child care is convenient for Hardy, who drops off Ethan on the way to work.
"There are numerous benefits including sharing lunchtime with Ethan and the ability to be nearby in the case of illness or emergency," she says, adding it makes mornings easier with the help of her husband to get their older children to school. "Very little time in the home/work commute is lost due to his close proximity to me on campus. When you have a hectic schedule due to work or school, every minute counts."
Currently, the centers on all three campuses and the Campus Homes Network care for a total of 116 infants, 186 toddlers, 438 preschoolers and 140 children in summer camp.
Several centers now have openings for preschool age children, 3 to 5 years old, McAlpine says.
About 110 employees work at the four U-M Ann Arbor centers. This provides for a staff-to-child ratio of 1-to-3 for infants, 1-to-4 for toddlers and 1-to-7 for preschool-aged children.
"Our high-quality centers offer a low ratio of staff to children and plenty of individual attention," McAlpine says. "Child care is a people-intensive business. It's that way because that's what children need."
About 30 students enrolled in an undergraduate developmental psychology course work in the centers each semester. The centers also take part in about 30 research projects a year with researchers ranging from the School of Education to the schools of music and art.
"The staff is highly qualified, with several teachers holding master's degrees," Hardy says. "More importantly, the teachers are extremely creative, enthusiastic and genuinely caring. I considered moving Ethan to a pre-school near his sisters' school in the fall for convenience and cost-savings, but we are so happy with UMCC that he will stay here."
For Kazmierzak, the best part of working at UMCC is building relationships with children, families and teachers.
"Being a part of a team whose first priority is to nurture, educate, support and play with young children to ensure that they grow to become an important member of our world is a gift," she says.