The Fulton County YMCA and Fulton-Montgomery Community College formed a partnership to provide campus based child care to serve the needs of the college community over 20 years ago, beginning the program in a college classroom.
The program has since expanded with its own secure building on the college campus located near the tennis courts behind O’Connell Hall where kids from six weeks to kindergarten entry develop and learn while playing in a child-friendly environment staffed by childhood education professionals.
Child Care Director Ann Day said many State University of New York schools have state licensed child care centers located on campus to support students pursuing higher education as well as staff members and community members. She added that the center at FMCC holds the distinction of being accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
“We follow a curriculum, it’s not just giving kids a toy,” head preschool teacher Susan Howard explained during the center’s spring open house. “We’re teachers, we’re educators so whether they’re infants or toddlers or preschoolers, the kids are doing activities to enrich and help them grow physically and mentally.”
The program curriculum fosters all areas of child development including cognitive, emotional, language, physical and social skills. Members of the teaching staff possess the educational qualifications to promote learning as children play and explore through age appropriate educational activities.
“Even the infants have a curriculum they follow,” Day said.
The center features bright, colorful rooms separated into different areas for infants, toddlers and preschool age children best suited to their developmental needs. Children in the program receive three nutritious meals a day and often participate in college activities.
“They get a sense of college as something you do as a part of life that is important,” Day said.
The child care center at FMCC follows the college schedule, open five days a week during the fall and spring semester with regular hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with summer and winter hours available depending on student needs.
“We do accommodate all sorts of schedules,” Howard said. “That’s why we’re here, to support college students.”
Howard and Day said they often come in early or stay late to support students trying to balance challenging class schedules, noting the child care center is popular among parents attending the school’s nursing programs that can be demanding with clinical rotations early in the morning or later in the day sometimes a distance away.
“The kids are proud,” Howard said. “They understand their parents are here to better themselves and that instills a good work ethic in the children.”
“A lot of people say they wouldn’t have gotten through school without us,” Day added.
Ciara Rathke, a single mother in her first year at FMCC hoping to enter the registered nursing program, said she wouldn’t have been able to return to school this past fall if she hadn’t secured child care for her three-year-old daughter Adeline Hentnik.
“It was a major concern, if I didn’t find child care I was not going to be able to come back to school,” Rathke said.
Rathke said she didn’t know the child care center at FMCC existed before she started the enrollment process, also learning she was eligible for financial assistance through the school’s Health Profession Opportunity Grant program.
The program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides academic, social, employment and other personal supports to low-income students entering FMCC’s health profession certificate and degree programs.
“They pay for the child care, it’s amazing,” Rathke said. “For anyone that’s thinking about it I highly recommend it.”
Day said many students are eligible for support through the HPOG program or SUNY grants administered by FMCC or receive federal financial aid at levels that can cover or subsidize the cost of child care. She added that keeping prices below market rates is a priority to make sure the service is affordable for students trying to better themselves to better their children’s lives.
Rathke and Hentnik stopped by the child care center during the spring open house where Hentnik cheerfully greeted staff members, sitting down to read a book with Howard and setting aside another book she wanted to read the following day.
“She is so happy here. She is so excited to be coming back and they are so good to everyone,” Rathke said. “They pretty much cater to my schedule, I’m able to drop her off at least half an hour before I have class that way I’m able to get situated. Last semester I had such a split up schedule, but I didn’t have to pick her up and drop her back off, she was able to stay here all day and she loves it.”
“We do everything we can to make things easy for children and families,” Day said.