Courtesy of Alondra Mendoza
Students face many challenges: expensive books, long commutes, balancing a healthy diet on a tight budget, and keeping grades up. For parents who attend school there’s another layer of concern to add to the equation. Between taking notes and raising kids, there is an incredible amount of hard work that goes into being a parent in pursuit of a degree.
Eboni Walker is an energetic young woman. She’s a former Vice President of the Black Student Union and a behavioral science student at Santa Rosa Junior College. She was 21 years old when her daughter was born. “People always think I’m doing too much,” Walker said, “but I’m happy. I would do it all over again.”
Walker and her partner care for two children together without much help from the biological fathers. Aside from each other, they often count on the support of Walker’s mother who also goes to SRJC. Education is a priority for this family.
“My daughter joined the kindergarten. She loves it,” said Walker, who brings the girls to campus in the afternoons. She and her mother alternate caring for the kids and taking classes. Walker believes the campus is very child-friendly, and that being surrounded by students can only be beneficial to her daughter. “We are three generations of women getting educated and coming to the JC,” she concludes proudly.
In addition to public or private preschools and daycares, many SRJC students have access to child care right on campus.
SRJC’s Call Children’s Development Center is in the very back of campus, by the Lounibos parking lot. One doesn’t even need to see the sign to know where it is—the sound of children chattering and playing cheerfully can be heard from far away.
Program supervisor Maleese Warner explained, “There are two ways you can get enrolled: you can come in and get an application, or you can go online and print one.” She encourages applicants to return calls from the center immediately. “We are state subsidized,” Walker said. “We do the lowest income first, and we base you off priority…We give 24 hours [after calling an accepted applicant], and then we move on to the next parent.”
Warner has experience in working with low-income parents, and it is clear just how passionate she is about her work by the way she beams while describing The Center, which currently tends to 92 kids ages 4 months to 6 years old.
“This has been an amazing experience. We are a high-qualified staff. Some of our teachers have been here for 20 years,” she says.
The Child Development Center has a very low turnoever, which provides parents with necessary consistency. “Most of the teachers retire out. People have longevity here which is really good for the children, good for the families, and it’s something they feel like they can come back to.”
The Center is open every semester, except for summer, and once accepted, that student remains in the program until kindergarten unless parents’ financial situation improves. There are a few paid spots for students who can afford it and it cost $40 per day.
Classrooms feature two way windows where Child Development students and parents can watch and listen to kids without interfering in the classroom dynamic. The Center provides excellent care and education for children, and it is also where future preschool children and child development students can observe, train and act as classroom assistants.
Each age group comes with different needs for activities. Two teachers are in charge of the Rose Infant room, and in the toddler side, the Heather room has two teachers, two associate teachers and an assistant. In the Rose toddler room there are one associate teacher, one intern and one student assistant.
Teal and blue rooms attend children between 3 to 5 years old. The staff consists of a master teacher who works with the practicum students, a teacher, an associate teacher, and an intern. In the Raspberry room, which attends ages 4 and 5, there are two teachers, an intern and the student assistant.
“The program is just amazing overall. It’s a package. We have highly qualified teachers; a quality environment and not many colleges have a program that is also a training facility. It is not just a child center; it is a part of the college.” Warner said. “We would love to help as many children and families as we can, we max this place out as much as we can but still staying the highest quality. We want to make sure the children get much as attention as they can get while helping as many families as we can here at the JC.”
Alicia De la Cruz, an administration student at SRJC and a staff member at The Center, feels that having her youngest son attend the program helped her grow stronger both as a mother and a student.
“I didn’t have to worry. I only had to do one trip and then go to class. I would pick him up early, or wait and do my homework. Last semester I started working here so I would go to class in the morning, and then come straight to work, and I wouldn’t have to worry about picking him up cause I was two steps away. I really liked it.” Said De la Cruz.
“I was a very overprotective mom, and I have three boys so it was really challenging for me with the older ones. But it gave The Center more strength to get over that overprotective thing.”
De la Cruz described going through hardships in her personal life, and how The Center supported her.
“There is a lot of help out there which I wasn’t aware of because I didn’t need it. But as soon as I told them about what was going on at home, they even introduced me to other programs, and I found some other resources.” She said. “They sent me to EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs and Services), housing assistance and psychological support, a family counselor.
When questioned if teachers are accommodating, she said most are, and she’s been able to bring her children into classrooms when she didn’t have access to babysitters in the past.
Mother of four Alondra Mendoza, 27, is studying office administration at SRJC. Her two-year-old son attends preschool at The Center. “I love this program. My son has been able to learn so much, sharing toys, putting his dish in the sink after he’s done eating.” Mendoza says. It was a difficult task to get him adapted to the program, however staff members Jennifer Warren and Susana Garcia did everything to make the transition easier, going as far as visiting the family’s home to get him used to the idea of being under their care.
“I have been taking 12 units, and begin working part time since the summer. It’s extremely difficult and tiring but I have great support at home and the SRJC. If it weren’t for the help I get I know it wouldn’t be possible.”
As the primary caregiver for three kids, Mendoza lives a hectic life and sometimes doesn’t have time to cook dinner. She wakes up at 6:30 AM and drops off her sister, and the older kids at school, before heading to SRJC to begin her own day. She’s thankful her current partner supports her so she could become full-time, and appreciates the support she gets from the college.
With so much on their plates, these parents come together with the institution, combining their busy schedules with the aspiration of developing academically and professionally.