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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WCC Children’s Center Marks Milestone

Before the books close on 2010, it’s important to mark a significant WCC milestone: Thirty years ago, in September 1980, the WCC Children’s Center moved into the Family Education building.

By the late 1970s the Children’s Center was quickly outgrowing its seven, well-worn portable buildings on the western edge of campus. The floors creaked year round and the walls were cold to the touch in winter. It was far removed from the heart of campus. If you were not a student or WCC staff member with a child enrolled there, you might have forgotten it existed.

The center had adopted the HighScope curriculum. It provided a structure for hands-on play that had child development at its core. Its success made it a model for many Head Start programs. Head Start gives children from low-income, at-risk environments support with academic readiness.

Today, the Children’s Center continues to care for toddlers and preschoolers. And over the years, it has adapted many times to the changing needs of the families it serves.

Many Changes Were Made in the Last Decade

Several of the center’s current practices were put into place when Trudi Hagen became director in 2003. One of her first changes was to transition from the HighScope curriculum to the Creative Curriculum, another popular research-based early childhood education model.

“The Ann Arbor preschool Head Start classrooms use Creative Curriculum. I wanted our program to be aligned with that,” said Hagen, who points out that roughly 95 percent of the Children’s Center families would qualify for Head Start services.

“The Creative Curriculum offers an assessment tool for teachers to use when planning activities to enhance children’s development,” Hagen said. “I like that it gives us forerunner skills to look for before a young child masters an important skill. I also think it helps parents understand the activities better. For example, Play-Doh strengthens hand muscles and helps children learn their shapes and letters as they manipulate it. So within a child’s play at the center are structured goals that support child development. Truly, we pull from the best of many curriculums.”

Another change Hagen instituted was ending the practice of holiday observances, such as Halloween and Christmas. “When you do activities that might exclude a child, it’s not in the best interest of the child,” said Hagen. “Even if we were to offer an alternative activity the children know it is exclusive. And that’s not conducive to best practices. We have to be sensitive to all religions and cultures. I refuse to do anything that will exclude a child from participating.”

Licensing Rules Have Influenced Changes

Licensing requirements have shaped programming at the Children’s Center almost as much as curriculum. The center has been licensed by the state of Michigan since it opened in 1968. It added accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to its credentials in 1999.

“You are under the regulations of the state of Michigan to be a licensed center,” said Hagen. “And then you have OSHA [U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and environmental health rules to follow. There are fire department codes to meet as well. And since we are an accredited center, there are many more agency requirements that we have to abide by.”

Over the years licensing and accreditation guidelines have changed employment requirements so that people working with young children have the necessary skill set, even if they are part-time caregivers. Greta Fauri, an advisor at the center, remembers a different staffing structure in 1980.

“We used to have a head teacher and an assistant teacher in each classroom,” said Fauri. “The two teachers are now what we call lead teachers, and it’s been a major change in terms of teamwork. Students receiving work study funds used to assist at the center. But they really didn’t have the educational background now required to work with young children, so we no longer have them.”

According to Hagen, 50 percent of her staff will have to have a bachelor’s degree by 2012 in order to maintain accreditation. All preschool teachers working in accredited centers nationwide, including those at the Children’s Center, must have a bachelor’s degree by 2020.

Hours and Ages Have Changed, Too

Slots at the Children’s Center fill up quickly. At peak times of the day there are up to 88 children being cared for. While most students and staff require child care between 7:00am and 5:00pm, many students have needed child care in the early morning and in the evening. For many years the center extended its hours to serve roughly 30 children at night. However, that option has since ended.

“It’s much easier to find someone who will watch a child at night than it is to find someone at 6:00am,” said Hagen. “[WCC] President [Larry] Whitworth has been adamant about accommodating nursing student schedules because they have to be at their clinical sites at 6:30am. So we open as early as 6:00am.”

Over the years there have been discussions about adding an infant program. According to Hagen, the staffing and facility requirements make it hard to accommodate children under 16 months. “Infants need a structured, secure, and quiet environment,” she said. “But parents come and go every half hour at the center. It is very disruptive and not a good environment for infants.”

“It takes toddlers about a month to get acclimated,” said Fauri. “We tried taking 16-month-olds for a while. But the 16-month-old child compared to the 18-month-old is vastly different. So we went back to providing care for 18-month-olds up to five years.”

Though the Children’s Center has called the Family Education building home for 30 years, it has been an important part of the support services provided to students by WCC for 42 years. But that’s another story.

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