The University of the Virgin Islands unveiled its new childcare center, which planners hope will aid students who need help obtaining care for their little ones while attending classes.
During Monday’s ribbon cutting, UVI President David Hall said the center was a culmination of 10 years of efforts. While the facility is located on the St. Thomas campus, Hall said work on another facility for the St. Croix campus is already underway and it is expected to be ready by August.
“This is a very exciting day for the university, and it is something that grows out of a vision I have had for some time,” Hall said.
The vision for the facility began in 2009 when Hall became president. He met with alumni and found many asked when a childcare center for students would come to fruition. At that time, Hall admitted he had no answer and only knew of the difficulties he would face trying to procure space, resources, licensing and liability insurance.
The space was originally conceived simply as a childcare facility, but Hall said it has become so much more.
“Over time we realized we could do something greater, something much more transformative and that is to create a model for early childhood education centers. Not just so our students and their children would be empowered, but the entire territory could be empowered in regards to early childhood education.”
The university entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Human Services so that the university’s childcare center would be used as a model for how other centers are judged and trained.
Karen Brown of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities was one of several experts brought in to help launch the childcare center. Brown said the facility would also operate as a diagnostic lab where she could evaluate and monitor each child’s educational development.
“We want to provide developmental screenings as well as evaluation of their development in language and communication, social, emotional and physical growth and cognition. When we are talking about cognition we are talking about memory, understanding and attention,” Brown said. With this information Brown said the center would like to provide both parents and teachers with individualized data on the child to create a better start for them in the classroom.
At this time the center has a capacity of 30 to 35 students, but Brown hopes this number will increase. All children will be grouped by age, ranging from toddlers to sixth graders, and provided instructors who will teach various topics using the provided spaces.
Within the facility are dedicated rooms to each of the S.T.R.E.A.M objectives: science, technology, reading, engineering, art and mathematics. The equipment and furnishings include tables made from dry erase boards, yoga balls to sit on while at the computers, cozy reading corners, toys and an outdoor playground.
The facility will operate from 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students who want to get their children admitted to the facility do not need to be attending class each time they drop off, Brown said, but can leave children at the center when they require library time or have to see academic counselors.
A feasibility study was conducted to determine an appropriate cost for the service and Brown said parents would be charged $200 per month. She added that student grants were also available that provide a $150 monthly stipend towards childcare, which would bring the out of pocket cost to parents at only $50 per month.
Sherryl Tonge-George, deputy director of the childcare center and diagnostic lab, said funding came through a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
“Without access to facilities of this nature, students would have to resort to bringing their children on campus with no assurance of a safe environment for them and more often than not would risk serving as a distraction or a risk of parents dropping out of school,” Tonge-George said.
Tonge-George said the facility’s importance isn’t just in the service it provides students, but as an added feature for the university which can provide professional development for its preservice teachers offering field experience and clinical practice.