Early childhood center classrooms will have playground access.
By Lionel Ramos
The John L. Santikos Micronauts Center and the early childhood center will provide a comprehensive program that combines nationally accredited early childhood education, and experiential learning for students of this college in the early childhood studies program, said President Robert Vela March 22 during a groundbreaking ceremony south of Scobee Education Center.
“The curriculum for the early childhood center will implement the micronauts program,” Vela said, explaining the two buildings will be physically connected to facilitate an interactive, science, technology, engineering and mathematics program for children ages 4-9.
Rick Varner, director of Scobee Education Center and future director of the micronauts center, said in an a phone interview March 21, the center is just like the Challenger Learning Center already in place in Scobee but will be aimed at a younger, more creatively active age group.
It will cater to students grades pre-K–3, instead of middle and high school students like the Challenger Center.
“When kids do make-believe, they engage in immersive learning,” Varner said.
He said the experience at the center would not simply be a field trip for young students, but an opportunity to play astronaut and scientist with engaging activities that are packaged thematically with space exploration, and aligned to the state’s Texas Essential Knowledge Skills, or TEKS.
Like the Challenger center, the micronauts center will allow students to engage in what Vela called “full-blown missions.”
This will be achieved through simulation-based missions led by trained flight directors in fully immersive space stations and mission control rooms and will be the beginning of a “cradle-to-college” pathway for the young students in STEM-related fields.
“We are trying to get the kids and parents on the pathway from the start,” Varner said. “Give them the vision.”
He said parents might see their child excel in a STEM-related field at an early age, such as 4 years old.
“So maybe the parents will think of their child ‘Hey, maybe he or she would be good at engineering’ – I say ‘he or she’ because many girls are still pointed in different directions (from STEM-related fields),” he said.
By getting parents engaged, Varner said, the chances of young students transitioning from the micronauts center to the Challenger center and then to a college classroom, increases dramatically – especially because many of the STEM activities the children are immersed in lead directly to programs in the Alamo Colleges.
The micronauts center will also take reservations from school groups 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. providing the same services, and an option to add the planetarium to their reservation package.
The early childhood center, a separate entity despite the close relationship with the micronauts center, will provide a low to no-cost child care option for current students at this college who may not have child care or the money to pay for a daycare.
Students at this college in need of child care are subject to the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Grant and can enroll a child in the early childhood center for $15-$20 a month compared to the average prices for commercial child care ranging from $160-$215 per month, according to the college website.
For more information on the grant, and requirements to qualify, visit the early childhood care center site at www.alamo.edu/sac/about-sac/college-offices/early-childhood-center/ and click on the early care and education grant information link.
“Parents don’t have to leave their child across town,” Vela said.
“There’s a sense of comfort there,” he said, adding the center is hoping to add a drop-in option, so student-parents can drop their child off, take some classes and pick their child up without leaving campus.
This will also open up a child care option for students who can only take evening and weekend classes.
Ann Coldwater, faculty director of the early childhood center and CCAMPIS project director, said one of the biggest highlights of the new early childhood center is the playground and how easy it will be for students to access it.
“Children are being distracted more and more by screens,” Coldwater said, explaining the playground will help mitigate a growing disconnect with the real world in children by being built around the exploration of nature with all five senses.
The playground will be certified by Nature Explore, a national nonprofit striving to “help nature become an integral, joyful part of children’s daily learning” and will not include any plastic.
In addition, each classroom will have a door opening directly to the playground, a perk unavailable to the children housed in the early childhood facility who have to take an elevator to access the playground, she said.
The building of the centers was made possible on May 6, 2017, when Bexar County voters approved a $450 million capital improvement bond to fund renovations and new construction projects throughout the Alamo Colleges.
According to the Bexar County website, there were 75,128 votes for the bond and 37,285 votes against it, resulting in 66.83 percent who voted being in favor of funding the multimillion dollar project.
Of the total funds, $83 million were allotted to this college for seven budgeted renovations or new construction projects.
Among those projects are the micronauts center, early childhood center and a new five-level parking garage expected to be finished in spring 2020, which were allotted a combined budget of $20 million, according to the Alamo Colleges District website www.alamo.edu/about-us/our-district/CIP/.
The micronauts center will be supplemented with a grant of $500,000 provided by the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation.
“It is very possible that without the Santikos award, the micronauts center would not have been built,” Varner said March 21.
In an interview at the ceremony, Vela said the center would be “too small” without the grant.
Chaye Peña, director of outreach and recruitment and mother of second-grader Piper Peña, 7, said she and her daughter are looking forward to participating in the activities offered by the new facilities, particularly the micronauts center.
Chaye Peña said she likes the “cradle-to-college” idea.
“I think it’s important that kids know what a college environment is like, so it’s not so big and intimidating when they get there,” she said.
She said the micronauts program is a good way of developing that perspective in children.
Both the micronauts and early childhood centers will be completed by fall 2020.