by Kristina Vakhman
Twenty six children are learning their letters and numbers just off of Central Connecticut State University’s campus, but the Early Learning Program teaching these youths is insubstantial, according to Fiona Pearson, the president of the ELP’s Board of Directors.
“There are only 26 slots,” Pearson said. “We don’t have any toddler care or any infant care here on campus. It’s only [children] three to five.”
The ELP is a non-profit providing award-winning preschool education. It prioritizes the children of CCSU students, faculty and staff, but services the entirety of New Britain and other surrounding areas.
Despite the ELP’s importance in serving quality schooling to Central and low-income children, the daycare’s restrictive physical size and tight resources have prevented it from fulfilling its potential of aiding a greater number of children and their parents.
Pearson, who also serves as co-chair for the university’s Work-Life Balance Sub-Committee, along with other members of the CCSU community, including the Committee on the Concerns of Women and the Parent Advisory Committee, have been advocating for expansions to the ELP ever since it was relocated off-campus to East Street over 10 years ago.
“It used to be where Welte Garage is. If you go to the [new] building today, it’s very small. There are only two small classrooms. That’s why we can only serve 26 small children. We’ve talked about trying to renovate the basement so that we can turn that into an expanded space and expand the resources that are available, but that’s expensive,” Pearson explained.
ELP’s director, Talhaht Mannan, said discussions on the refurbishment have been going on for around three years.
As of now, though, the plan to convert the basement into either a kid-friendly gymnasium or into a preschool classroom to make space for infants and toddlers upstairs is nothing more than just a plan.
A much more favorable scenario for Pearson, however, would be for the ELP to return to CCSU’s campus. She believes that the move back would not only bring a greater expanse for the children, but is also better suited for parents.
“We feel that it being off-campus is not convenient for parents,” Pearson said. “We talked about it being in the DiLoreto reconstruction, which is not happening. We’ve talked about having it in the reconstruction of Barnard, which is also not happening. We’ve talked more recently about the Student Center. That would be centrally located and would be near convenient parking. I’d love to see it integrated into an expansion of the Student Center, but much depends on the needs of the university, although we think this is a need that ought to be prioritized.”
Onyinye Obidoa-Pelletier, a CCSU graduate student expecting her first child who works with student parents, agreed that this approach “would be much easier to continue with one’s work and studies if there were a drop-off center or childhood learning program on campus.”
Obidoa-Pelletier added that certain grievances expressed to her by parents, such as “not being able to get accommodations from professors… to cater to the needs of one’s children” — a matter which the university does not have a set policy on, according to Human Resources, and is thus dictated on a professor-by-professor basis — would be resolved with the construction of a practical, on-campus drop-off site.
“It would be wonderful to see additional programs on campus that are early learning programs,” Mannan said, although she propounded that it would be better for the ELP itself to stay where it currently is because it being a “stand-alone building” that is “peaceful” and “secluded” has given the children the ability to “enjoy more since…[there is a] playground.”
Additionally, a report written in 2011 by the faculty-appointed Child Care Task Force and the Work-Life Balance Sub-Committee called for the creation of a Family Resource Center similar to that of schools like Southern Connecticut State University. It would address the needs of families and provide resources other than childcare likes nutrition workshops and financial management.
Furthermore, the report noted that Central could utilize an on-campus daycare as a “lab daycare center” for academic learning.
“Students from various academic departments, including psychology, nursing and physical education, and from various CCSU programs, including Residence Life, have benefited from conducting programs or conducting observations at the ELP,” the report said. “It is clear that CCSU’s students benefit from visiting the ELP, but without a CCSU academic or program sponsor, the ELP cannot grow to address the child care needs highlighted.”
The possibility of other projects dealing with families and children, such as on-campus apartments with kitchens, have also been discussed without coming to fruition, Jean Alicandro, director of Residence Life said.
The expansions and benefits claimed to accompany them have yet to be looked over. With the budget crisis already hitting the state with cuts to educational funding, discussions to the ELP’s improvements have become more stagnant than before. Nonetheless, Pearson is optimistic, especially due to President Dr. Zulma Toro’s expressed interest in adding on to the program.
“I feel like we’ve been speaking in a vacuum for a long time,” Pearson said. “We are in a place at least where we have people in high positions listening to us and who understand us. The mission is there. In terms of what we want out of this academically and as a student resource, people understand the need, but no one is clear on how we are going to fund such a project.”