Children’s Center gets student-parents closer to graduation

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Emily was 19 years old when she got pregnant with her son, Ethan. As a college student, juggling exams, homework and a social life while pregnant was too much to handle. So she took a year off from college to have her son, get married, and, eventually, enroll at Hunter.

Ethan stayed with his dad while Emily took classes, going for a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at first. But when he turned 2-and-a-half years old and was fully potty trained, Ethan was accepted into the Children’s Learning Center, a daycare facility for the children of Hunter students.

“The Children’s Learning Center helped with everything,” said Emily, now 23. The Athenian is using her first name only to protect her privacy. “I was able to get a position in two labs and make connections with professors, which is important for getting into grad school. If the Children’s Learning Center didn’t help me out, I wouldn’t have been able to do all this.”

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4.8 million undergrad students across the country raise dependent children. Women make up over 70 percent of those undergrads raising children, many of them doing it without the support of a partner or spouse.

The Children’s Learning Center here takes kids on a first-come, first-served basis, and has several classrooms that can accommodate 15 children each. Children 2-and-a-half to 6 can attend the preschool program from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and children 6 to 12 can attend the after-school program from 3:30 to 8:15. The center charges on a sliding scale based on total household income and family size; fees range from $1 to more than $250 per week.

In October, City University of New York announced that it will distribute $6 million of federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education to its college childcare centers. The CUNY schools receiving the grant are LaGuardia, Brooklyn, Baruch, Bronx Community, Kingsborough Community and Lehman. The grants will allow for more students in the childcare centers per semester and lengthen hours. CUNY did not respond with a comment on why Hunter’s childcare center was not included as a recipient for funding.

Jalessa Felix, 26, also knows the challenges of being a student-mother as parent to Pierre Jordan, 2, and Preston Jordan, 8 months. Although her children are too young to be enrolled in the Children’s Learning Center, Felix believes “it takes a village to raise children.” Felix said, “Being a mother and going to school has challenged me in so many ways. It made me stronger and changed my perspectives on life as a whole. I want my children to have more, so I’m determined to finish college.”

Kristina Siriotis-Beverly graduated with a degree in media in 2016, but before she did, she had to make plans for Genevieve, who was born in 2013. When her daughter turned 2, Siriotis-Beverly enrolled her at the learning center, a move that she says made it possible for her to finish her degree while she and her husband worked full time.

Most school days, Genevieve would come to school with her in the morning and then Siriotis-Beverly would go straight to work after classes; her husband would pick Genevieve up at the end of his work day.

“They always took into account when I had big projects or finals, and supported me by keeping Genevieve for additional hours during those busy weeks,” said Siriotis-Beverly. “They probably saved me a year of school for myself because without them I would have probably completed my final year as a part-time student.”

Trina Weaver, the head teacher at the Children’s Learning Center, explained that the program has expanded since its founding in 1983, but has also grown to meet the needs of children of different ethnicities and religions, as the demographic at Hunter has changed significantly over the decades.

“We have many students who celebrate different holidays, not just Christmas or Hanukkah, for example,” said Weaver. “We want to make sure our center grows to the needs of the children and parents.”

Weaver said she gets a lot of personal satisfaction by watching students’ children, and not just because she enjoys children.

“Knowing that I helped someone achieve their academic goals means everything to me,” said Weaver. “I’m providing a foundation for a child’s first step in education. There’s no better feeling than that.”

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