Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cuyamaca College's child development center celebrating 10th year

Children enjoy playing at Cuyamaca College's Child Development Center

Tucked away in a secluded corner of the campus, shielded from view by groves of trees, the Cuyamaca College Child Development Center is like the toy prize found at the bottom of a cereal box. It takes a little searching around to find it, but its discovery always draws a smile.
To the youngest of the college’s population, the 10,500-square-foot center with its touches of whimsy and color must seem like a giant playhouse. But its role as a childcare facility for the community and campus and as a fieldwork site for college students in the child development program makes the center more than just child’s play.
The $3.5 million facility, constructed with state bond funds, will mark its 10th year with a ceremony from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19. Among the featured speakers will be the first young wards of the center – now just shy of entering their teens.
Opened in August 2001 with a handful of children, ages 2-5, the center has grown in the past decade to provide care to about 95 youngsters a year and has a waiting list of more than 150 families, said Kristin Zink, director of the child development program.. A key proponent of the facility during its development, Zink was instrumental in acquiring operational funds.
A little over half of the children have a parent who is a student at the college, said center director and adjunct instructor Linda Haar. Support from state-funded grants and initiatives including First Five California, a 1998 voter-approved measure to promote early childhood development, allows the center to offer free or discounted childcare to students, based on income and family size. Students must be enrolled in at least six units of classes and also take a parenting class through the college to be eligible for assistance.
The remaining children are from college staff members and the off-campus community. Non-students and college staffers with incomes exceeding state-subsidy limits are charged rates comparable to other daycare facilities, about $870 a month for full-time care.
“There is a universal need for quality, affordable childcare and the Cuyamaca College center is a godsend to students, many of whom are parents of young children,” said college President Mark J. Zacovic. “With the realization that education is key to getting California back to economic prosperity, the state provides childcare assistance to modest-income families with children so those parents are not automatically precluded from pursuing higher education.”
With large, observation windows well-suited for students to watch the youngsters without disrupting center activities, the facility is the centerpiece of the college’s child development program.  It offers an associate degree to become a licensed childcare center teacher, master teacher or facility supervisor. Certificates are also available with specializations in infants and toddlers; preschool children; school-age children; early childhood intervention and recreational leadership.
“We have students, not just from our college, but also San Diego State University dropping in during the school year to fulfill class assignments to observe the children,” said Haar, who heads a staff of three teachers and two aides. “You can always tell when a paper is due.”
Grossmont College, the older of the district’s two colleges, opened  its Child Development Center in 1989. The facility is also a college laboratory with many student observers from  the academic program, as well as other area schools and childcare programs.
Ample natural lighting, child-friendly spaces and highly qualified staff, including state-certified mentor instructors in each of the three children’s classrooms, make the center a model for the state.
“Faculty and staff worked diligently with architects and other key industry people to come up with a facility that is so child-centric,” said Cindy L. Miles, district chancellor. “It incorporates research-based child development principles with a very functional and fun-looking design. Every square inch of the center was created with the foremost thought of making the facility as welcoming a place as possible for young children.”
The large playground with landscaping that’s full of dips and gullies to hop around and paved paths for helmeted tricycle aficionados is perfect for the youngsters’ boundless energy. Features such as a bridge with small holes built into the concrete for the rabbits and squirrels scampering about the pastoral campus and water trough that drops off onto a long, pebbled recycling drain are further touches that combine fun with learning opportunities.
“From the beginning our focus – the heart of our center – has been the children,” Zink said. “The physical environment, with its emphasis on subtle natural colors and natural materials, support the children as the true color of the center. We continually modify and accommodate our classroom to best meet the needs and interests of the changing children in the rooms and we have increased the levels and depth of participation for our child development students. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to the best possible early childhood experience for our children.”
The Cuyamaca Child Development Center is at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in Rancho San Diego, just southeast of the campus main parking lot between Fury Lane and Cuyamaca College West.
For more information about Cuyamaca and Grossmont Colleges and the district, go to www.gcccd.edu.