Jamie Perrella, an education major at USF, found herself in a unpredictable situation last year when she discovered she was pregnant. After taking one semester off, she enrolled for the spring semester taking only online and evening classes.
“My parents watch my son when they get home, so the only time I can be on campus is in the evening,” Perrella said.
However, because she works, she can’t attend class every evening. So she thought online classes would allow her to earn credits while she was at home with her child.
“When you’re taking an online course, it’s OK when the child is sleeping. But when you have an infant, it is difficult to concentrate when you’re constantly going back and forth between the child and your work,” Perrella said.
Although the schedule works for now, she is aware she will be in school a long time unless she takes classes during the day. But her part-time job would barely cover the cost of enrolling her son in day care.
However, USF’s Family Center offers help to students in these situations. Students, faculty and staff can enroll their children in an on-campus day care or preschool.
The center is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Children can be enrolled full-time or part-time. There are two part-time options. One is a regular schedule of times when the children will be in the center. The other is a drop-off program where only 24-hours notice is required to see if there is space to leave a child.
After a registration fee of $30, each semester for part-time and annually for full-time, the prices for the day care and preschool are much lower than other outlets.
It is $6 an hour for an infant, $5.25 for a toddler and $5 for preschool-age children.
Cheryl Doyle, assistant director of the center, said about two-thirds of the children born to students.
Donna Golub, director of USF Family Center, points out the advantages for students.
“We keep a grid that shows where the parents are at all times, and in the case of an emergency, we would dispatch someone to the classroom immediately to get them,” Golub said. “Even if it’s just a sick child and the parent gets the message after class, it’s helpful and reassuring to the parents that they don’t have to drive somewhere to see their child.”
The Family Center has an open door policy, and they encourage parents who enroll their children full-time to have a visiting time during their day.
The center has been open since 1998, and in 2000 they expanded to two buildings after the head start program, a pre-kindergarten program, relocated. The new location is on the corner of Bruce B. Downs and Fletcher Avenue. Now there are rooms for each age group, and some groups even separate the full-time from the part-time children. There is even a “Waddler” room, for children between the infant and toddler age.
“It’s a transition space where they can move from crawling to walking, a bottle to a sippy cup, a highchair to a table and chair and a crib to a small cot,” Golub said.
“It allows the mobile infants to be separated from the immobile ones so they don’t fall over them,” Doyle said.
The center also has separate playgrounds for different ages and a bike trail so that the children can exercise, Doyle said. She explained how the playground toys were higher off the ground to give the children’s muscles more of a work out.
Golub, a USF alumna, said she enjoys her job.
“I really love being around the kids and I have a really great staff,” Golub said.
Golub said many of the teachers have bachelor’s or associate’s degrees, while others have a Child Developmental Associate degree. Golub said much of the staff has been together for a few years and they work really well together.
She said they have monthly meetings where they give awards to encourage the 25 staff members. In order to get certified, each teacher at Bright Horizons, the Family’s Center’s managing company, must take at least 10 service hours to learn about their agegroup’s development. They also have to have an additional 30 hours in general observing.
The Family Center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The accreditation means that the center must follow stricter regulations for management of the facility, including having very small teacher-to-child ratios.
As for Perrella, she said she is thinking of applying to the Center next semester to help her and her family out, so she can attend school and take care of her son.