Kids' center on the move

Towson U. day care facility to open in new $4.5 million home

January 27, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

The first Student Day Care Center at Towson University served eight children in a converted storage area. It then moved to a building where generations of teachers have been trained.

Now, with that academic building set to be knocked down to make way for a bigger structure, the day care center is moving on to much larger quarters.

On Monday, the center opens in its new, $4.5 million home.

Harriet Douthirt, the director of the day care center, said the new building will allow the operation to expand and meet a growing demand.

"The plan is to add to the program each year, and in our new facility we will be able to do that," she said.

The back of the new building is glass and opens to the playground, and everything is child-size. Towson students get first crack at using the day care facility, which is also available to alumni, university faculty and staff and, if space is available, to people in the community.

Towson University was among the pioneers in higher education in offering a child care center as an amenity, and the idea has caught on at schools across the country, said Paula Berry, president of the National Coalition for Campus Children's Centers.

"Universities are finding that they are losing faculty to industries that are more family-friendly," Berry said. "If a school wants to keep its highly qualified professors and appeal to graduate students, they have to offer them an environment that allows them to be a parent, and work or attend school."

She said about 2,500 colleges operate day care centers.

The on-site child care program at Stanford University has grown over the past three decades to a complex with nurseries, full-time day care centers and an after-school program, where services are provided to more than 600 faculty, staff and students. Still, the centers have a waiting list of more than 500.

"Women put their names on a waiting list as soon as they get a due date," said Carol Skladany, assistant director of Stanford's Work Life Office.

The center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County also has a waiting list, said Susanna Twigg, the director of the YMCA child care center located on the campus. The center, which caters primarily to professors and students, has 64 children enrolled in its play-based program.

"People on campus and off have come to respect the cutting edge of our curriculum as a good start for their children," said Twigg. "They decide that if educationally minded people like professors want their children in the program, then they want their children there as well."

"College institutions focus on academics," Berry said. "And since learning begins at birth, parents want the highest-quality education for their children. And they think they can get that at colleges and universities where a good education is stressed and where the best teaching methods are being researched."

Also universities are looking for ways to reach more people, Berry said.

"Statistics show that more women than men are going to college. Also the schools don't want to lose their highly educated work force," she said.

Dana Levitt, a Towson University graduate student from the Phoenix area of Baltimore County, said the day care center at the school helps make her life easier.

"The main reason that I use the day care located on campus, is convenience," said Levitt, whose 5-year-old son, Grant, attends the center. "I can do my classes and not worry about rushing off campus to get my son."

The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and follows the university's calendar. Fees range from $125 to $200 per week for full-time childcare services, and $100 to $185 per week for part-time services. Daily rates range from $20 to $40 per day. The center is licensed for 60 children.

For years it has been located in the university's Lida Lee Tall building. Towson students come into the classrooms for observation and to assist with the children under the supervision of a professional teacher, said Douthirt. She said 150 to 200 students per semester participate.

"They come here and observe to see if teaching is really what they want to do," she said. "They want to find out if they want to be behind a microscope or work with people."

The Lida Lee Tall building is scheduled for demolition in the spring to make way for a 250,000-square-foot College of Liberal Arts building.

"The new center will make a world of difference," Douthirt said.

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