Early Childhood Education Center lends a hand to student parents

Cindy Waters

Brandon, 2, plays in his classroom at the Early Childhood Education Center at SF State on October 6th. Photo by Cindy Waters.

Sleepless nights, tight schedules and struggling to pay the bills are common woes on any college campus. These struggles are exacerbated when students are also facing the heavy responsibility of feeding, raising and finding the time to spend with a child. The demanding nature of classes while needing to maintain a job sometimes puts student parents in a pressing conundrum where they must choose between graduating and making ends meet. That’s where the Early Childhood Education Center comes in.

The ECEC receives the most money of any of the programs supported by Associated Students Inc., with allocations totaling 36 percent of the organization’s $3.6 million budget. The other programs subsidized by ASI including the legal resource center, women’s center and project rebound, each receive only 3 percent of the budget, which is funded by fees charged to every student at SF State each semester.

These funds subsidize the childcare and preschool programs for children of 133 SF State students. Faculty members may also enroll their children in the program.

“I felt like I was leaving my children with their second mommies,” said Veronica Castillo, office manager for the ECEC and a graduate of SF State. “It was really nice to have a center on site. I was able to be close, if anything happened.” While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Castillo left her children at the center Monday through Friday because even on the days she didn’t have class she had to work to support her family and the costs of her education.

Luckily, she said that she qualified for grants that allowed her to pay for the subsidized childcare, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to do it.

“It allowed me to finish my schooling,” Castillo said. “I got to leave my children in the best hands I could.”

Castillo said the center also helped her daughter transition into kindergarten.

The costs of the services provided by the ECEC vary based on the average annual income per household and the number of people in that household. The hourly cost of care ranges from $3.73 an hour to $9.63 an hour. That adds up to anywhere from $950.51 to $8,184.23 each semester, depending on the age of the child and the number of days and hours per week a child stays in the center.

In addition to providing care for student parents, the ECEC also provides nearly 40 students with part-time work, according to Castillo. Those students who are taking more units in Early Childhood Education qualify for higher positions and with that comes a higher pay.

SF State senior Marina Lee, visual communications major, has worked at the ECEC for five years.

“It feels like home,” Lee said. “It so hard for me to leave the kids. It’s a good cycle getting to see the kids go through their education and the new students that come in.”

The children that come into the center range from 6 months to 5 years old. The center has two separate licenses, one for childcare and one for preschool.

“This is a very important part of SF State and not many people use it or know about it,” Lee said. “It needs more recognition.”

According to Sarah Johnson, director of the ECEC, part of the reason the center requires so much funding is because of the national accreditation process the center goes through.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a five-year accreditation that allows the ECEC to qualify for more grants and licenses. The NAEYC grades the center on ten different standards including relationships, curriculum, teaching, health, assessment of child’s progress, physical environment and community relationships. Teachers must fill out nearly 300 files with documentation that they have met all the criteria to qualify the center for the accreditation, according to Johnson.

The ECEC also receives nearly $200,000 in grants per year to aid in their costs.

The other main reason the center requires so much funding is the environment the ECEC strives to maintain.

“The environment speaks to the child,” Johnson said. “It speaks about what is OK to do, do I feel welcome, do I feel safe and it encourages them to try new things.”

For parents to be eligible to apply for the center’s services they must be enrolled in at least six units at the university and working towards a degree. Parents first must complete the application process, then they are added to the wait list. Before they can be transferred into enrollment in the center, months prior to the start of every semester a enrollment request from is mailed to those on the list.

After that form is filled out and returned along with a form of income confirmation, the ECEC then enrolls new and returning families to the center when the semester begins.

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