Accredited child care bustles with activity

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Child development specialist Karla Juarez asks Aiden Cortina, 4, about the robot he is making with a magnetic balls-and-rods set during preschool play time Oct. 7 in Room 110 of early childhood studies. The preschool class stayed indoors for playtime because of rain and played with educational toys and games such as “fraction fruits,” science stereoscopes and emotion flash cards. Photo by Alison Graef

Child development specialist Karla Juarez asks Aiden Cortina, 4, about the robot he is making with a magnetic balls-and-rods set during preschool play time Oct. 7 in Room 110 of early childhood studies. The preschool class stayed indoors for playtime because of rain and played with educational toys and games such as “fraction fruits,” science stereoscopes and emotion flash cards. Photo by Alison Graef

Program provides a low teacher-student ratio for students with children younger than 4.

By Y. Arroyo

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

A group of 12 2-year-olds gathered around Linda Cantu, child development specialist, as she read “Rumble in the Jungle” at this college’s early childhood center.

“What do I see? I see a monkey, and he’s laughing at me,” said Cantu as she whooped like a monkey in front of the laughing children. She continued: “Rumble, rumble through the jungle. I stopped …” The toddlers screamed, “Aaaaahhhhhh.”

Next, Cantu led them in singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” before dismissing them for a lunch of brown rice, chicken and sweet and sour sauce.

The center offers child care for students at this college with children ages 1-4. The Ranger spent Oct. 5 observing activities of the 2-year-old class and interviewing employees and a parent.

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Biology sophomore Debra Williams praised the center for helping her return to school after being a stay-at-home mom.

“I like everything about this program,” Williams said as she picked up her 2-year-old daughter, Leilani, later that day. “It helps me stay at school and stay focused.”

The staff includes teachers with four- and two-year degrees, as well as student volunteers enrolled in early childhood studies at this college.

Unlike most child care centers in the city, the program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Texas Rising Star.

“We have higher expectations,” said child development specialist Elvira Bravo. “We’re more focused on the child and consider all of their developmental domains. We incorporate everything that they do throughout the day in each zone through conversation and interactions.”

San Antonio had 848 licensed child care centers in fiscal year 2015, said early childhood studies Director Claudia Gonzalez, citing numbers from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Of those, 34 have NAEYC accreditation, according to Meghann Hickey, NAEYC quality improvement specialist.

The center also has lower teacher-student ratios than other facilities in the state, Gonzalez said. The center’s ratios are two teachers for every nine children for the 18- to 24-month-old class, 2:12 for the 2-year-olds, 2:14 for 3-year-olds and 2:18 for 4-year-olds.

By comparison, the state’s ratios are one teacher for every nine children for 18-24 months, 1:11 for 2-year-olds, 1:15 for 3-year-olds and 1:18 for 4-year-olds, Gonzalez said.

Bravo said the center’s indoor-outdoors zones allow children to seamlessly transitions between both worlds.

“All the zones we have indoors, we also have outdoors,” she said. “We have a dramatic play zone inside the classroom — you’ll see that in the playground. We have the large gross motor zone, and you’ll see them (children) pushing on the trikes, the diesel trucks and the lawnmowers, going in and out of the red metal trucks. Then we have the music, just like you saw inside. So all of our zones that we have inside are re-created outside.”

Most of the classrooms have a big play area for children. It gives them room to run, dance and play. It consists of two prams the children can play with, a mini kitchen, library, building blocks and puzzles.

The center receives most of its funds through a grant from CCAMPIS, or the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program. The majority of parents have low-income families, which means they can qualify for a scholarship.

The scholarship pays for most of the child care fee, Bravo said. Parents end up paying $25-$35 a week.

Students who qualify with nine hours or more will be able to afford the program, Bravo said. “We do have full-fee slots for nonstudents and their rate is the same across the board for all accredited centers.”

Full-fee slots are for parents who do not attend this college. Those slots range from $199 for infants and $191 for early toddlers to $186 for toddlers and $179 for preschoolers.

The center’s NAEYC accreditation requires lower student-teacher ratios, which fosters more “hands-on interactions with the parents and the students,” she said.

During playtime or self-selected activities, each teacher will spend time playing and interacting with each child — such as doing puzzles or playing instruments — while also keeping an eye on the other children.

Students in this college’s early childhood studies program work at the center as part of their lab requirement, Cantu said.

“The volunteer students help the teachers out six hours a week, so there will always be someone looking after the children, and it gives them a greater opportunity to have more one-on-one time with them,” Cantu said. “They lead transitions, play and get involved with the children, and have activities for the children.”

Transition signals include singing and repetition.

After outdoor activities, Bravo and Cantu sing “Walk, walk, walk to the carpet” to the tune of “Skip to My Lou” when leading the children back to class and keep singing until they’re in class.

“We make sure the children are happy, safe, having fun and, most importantly , learning,” Bravo said.

The center is not just a day care, Cantu said. It focuses on the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of children.

The older ages learn skills to help them in elementary school.

“Classes for children ages 3 and 4 are considered preschool programs,” Bravo said. “They’re more classroom-based where children are learning letters, rhymes and numbers. They also learn to write, hold pencils and recall what they’ve learned. They’re a part of the Texas Rising Star Program, so they get all that good information off of it — alphabet, numbers, emergent literature, and I believe, they also have technology in the classroom.”

By applying for the CCAMPIS grant, eligible parents can have 70 percent of their tuition or child care fees reduced, Gonzalez said. Interested students can visit www.alamo.edu/sac/ecs and click on CCAMPIS.

On the left hand of the screen, click on Application Link & Payment Deadline. Download and print the application by clicking Child Care Assistance Application.

Parents must bring in their degree plan, financial aid award from ACES, student schedule, proof they paid for classes, income tax form, household income and evidence of government assistance if they receive it. Other requirements are on the website and application. Once the application is filled out, parents must send it to student success generalist Norma Padilla. Call her at 210-486-0518.

The grant requires parents to have at least four volunteer hours a semester. These hours can be spent reading to the children, playing and even helping out during field trips. Parents are encouraged to be involved so they feel like they’re a part of their children’s education, Cantu said.

Breakfast, lunch and snack are provided; parents who have concerns regarding their child’s allergies are required to fill out a meal modification form at the center.

Doctors have to sign off on it, saying what they can and cannot have. Those documents are sent to the Center for New Communities and the center’s catering company.

“We only serve them what they provide us to serve them,” Bravo said. “We’re very cautious and careful about that.”

The center is also careful about providing adequate training to employees, she said.

“We have lots of training — 45 hours to 60 hours,” Bravo said. “We train yearly, online, on-and-off campus training, and it’s all about child development. On top of that, everyone here has their education; mostly everyone has a degree in child development. Four of our teachers have their bachelor’s in early childhood. Three other teachers have their associate in child development.”

Once the children are enrolled, parents can expect a daily report from their teacher about what their child ate, how they were feeling and doing what they were that day.

Center for New Communities’ Early Head Start Program is a separate agency located in the early childhood center. It offers care for infants 6 weeks to age 3, Bravo said.

Williams said the early childhood center is teaching her daughter valuable skills.

“The center helped her a lot at home, too,” she said. “It’s helped her more because she’s been more independent, she uses more words and she’s developing very fast. She was always very attached to me because I was always a stay-at-home mom, and now she can play by herself in her room, and she’s more independent.”

For more information about the child care program, call the center at 210-486-0530. For information about Early Head Start, email site director Laura Vega at lvega@c4newcommunities.

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