Student parents search for daycare options

By Kara Veldman

The sound of children playing on campus is not a new thing for Whatcom Community College. Until June 18, 2010, Whatcom had an accredited Childcare Development Center.

The CDC was available during school hours, parents could drop off their children, 18 months until school age, while they went to class or work. Depending on the enrollment, the center was a nursery or a preschool classroom. Students and campus employees had priority, and then the center was opened to the community.

Tobi Martinez, program coordinator for the Transitional Learning Program, has been working at Whatcom for 25 years and said her son, who is now 18, went to the CDC from the age of 3 to 5.

“It made it a lot easier,” Martinez said. “Being a student and an employee on campus, he was just here all the time. I could drop him off and pick him up without having to make a separate trip somewhere else.”

When the center was active 6 years ago, there were 42 full-time spots available.

“There was always a long waiting list, especially for infant care,” Martinez said. “A lot of staff used the center, and a lot of time, as soon as people knew they were pregnant, they would put themselves on the waiting list, and maybe they would get in by the time their children were toddlers,” said Martinez.

Nathan Langstraat, vice president for Administrative Services at Whatcom said that “the center seemed to be a very vibrant, fun, and high quality childcare location.” At the time the college was experiencing severe budget cuts.

“We had to figure out what were considered the core academic services that students had to have: financial aid, registration, and advising,” Langstraat said.

When the time came for the CDC to close down, there was a large staff population that “were very vocal about not wanting it closed,” Langstraat said.

“Many of the staff went through a lot of effort to get them to change their minds,” Martinez said. “The board said it was just too expensive to keep.”

There were a lot of ideas on how to fundraise the center, different ways it could be run, and if people would be willing to pay more.

“They were all good intentions but at the end of the day the numbers were too big,” Langstraat said. “It is also a number that has to be solved annually, which can be a little daunting.”

When the CDC closed, the institution still recognized the importance of early learning.

“The idea was to reuse the space with a partner to provide childcare and an element of early childhood education on campus and still have an observation site for students,” Langstraat said. “About a year after the center closed, Whatcom rented the space out to Head Start.”

The cost to have your kid in the daycare was roughly $4 an hour in 2010. Many of the parents using the center were low-income students, and so many of the children who were there were subsidized through the Department of Social and Health Services. Whatcom had to cover any costs that the center didn’t make.

“It added up to be about $160,000 a year,” Langstraat said.

Administrators tried having the center be opened only in the mornings, but “that still wasn’t enough,” Martinez said.

Head Start Program is a program of the United States DSHS that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. There are 10 Head Start locations spread throughout Whatcom County; Located in Bellingham, Custer, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, Mt. Baker, Nooksack, and Sumas.

Ages are limited to 3-to-5-year-olds.

“It is a very good program and we are lucky to have it on our campus,” Langstraat said. “Although for many on our campus and in our community we certainly miss the Childcare Development Center as it existed several years ago. However, the partnership we have with Head Start right now is working pretty well”

“From my perspective, if it were to ever come back I would expect to see a fairly solid financial analysis of how it could be sustained over time at the level and quality that we would want it to be as an institution,” Langstraat said.

“Running a childcare development center has a level of risk and liability associated with it,” said Langstraat, “and we would want to make sure that we are doing everything the way we should be doing it to keep that level of quality.”

Heather Troutman, who has been attending Whatcom as a student parent for two years, studying business administration, has a daughter who is 10, a 4-year-old son, and a 3-month-old.

“Being a parent of under-age school children has been very difficult for doing homework at the house,” Troutman said in an email.

From a student perspective, “Having childcare on campus could be an amazing benefit for many reasons: time, access, emergencies, and location,” Troutman said. “Having early drop-off and late pick-up would allow for more study time for homework on campus and ensure instructor help.”

“Being a good student is very important to me, but being a good mom is more. I have enjoyed the obstacles that I have overcome and plan to keep up the good hard work,” Troutman said.

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