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University students advocate for campus childcare
December 14, 2018

University students advocate for campus childcare

University students advocate for campus childcare

Courtney Barnes, sophomore at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, walks with her 8-year-old daughter Irelande to class. Photo by Tessa Pena, Vivian Hernandez-Serna, Eleazar Rodiles

Katherine Riley, president of Jaguar Student Parent Organization, kisses her 2-year-old daughter goodbye and leaves her daughter in the hands of workers at the Student Activities Center before she heads to her next class. She often has to bring her daughter with her to the university because she has not been able to secure reliable and affordable childcare while she pursues her undergraduate degree in history.

The process of finding affordable and reliable childcare for infants and young children can be an unsettling task for south side San Antonio residents, including parents seeking a higher education.

The recently formed Jaguar Student Parent Organization advocates for quality childcare on the campus of Texas A&M University-San Antonio. The organization is for parents to help each other through challenges they face while being a student. The goal of starting the Jaguar Student Parent Organization was to bring parents together to get the process of bringing child care to the campus moving faster.

My goal on campus is to get some sort of childcare, whether we team up with Palo Alto or another daycare that’s local, that helps our jaguar parents not have to bring kids to class because I know it’s a struggle,” Riley said.

According to research by Children at Risk, a non-profit organization that focuses on educating the public on children’s issues throughout Texas, south side residents face different challenges including affordability to childcare deserts in their area. Problems facing childcare in Texas include low participation in Texas Rising Star (TRS), limited access to quality providers and funding.

Sean Saul, senior business major at A&M-San Antonio, said as a single parent he is faced with challenges raising his 6-year-old son. He moved back in with his parents to allow easy access for them to care for his son. Saul lives 45 minutes from campus and spent his five-week summer course with his son in class every day as this was his only option.

“I have to have after-school care for my son and then as soon as I’m done here, I have to race up to pick him up from there,” Saul said.  

He said the Jaguar Student Parent Organization is trying to identify the different problems and challenges students are facing. He is happy that A&M-SA does not have any policies against children in class. Saul said he feels as though there are other student parents like him who want to be able to raise their kids and not have to be concerned with finding quality child care.

Although A&M-SA does not have a policy against children in class, junior accounting major Rebecca Garcia said that she senses the hesitation when she asks if it will be okay to bring her child. After the impression she got from her professor about bringing her 2-year-old son, she has been skipping that class ever since.

“I’ve only tried to bring him into her class once and then I asked her but she gave me a lot of hesitation,” Garcia said.  “And if somebody doesn’t feel comfortable with my kid, I’m not going to feel comfortable bringing my kid around, so I have not gone to that class.”

Garcia has her 86-year-old grandmother who lives close by the campus to care for two of her three children while she is in most of her classes. She said she usually puts her 1 and 2-year-old down for a nap with her grandmother, but some days brings them to class. Some days her grandmother does not have the energy to care for high energy grandchildren, this is where every day looks different.

There are parents on campus such as Mary Bello, sociology senior, and Joanne Lopez, sociology junior, who have solid childcare from family or being a stay at home mom with all online classes at A&M-SA. However, Bello said the campus should have childcare.

“I just think it would be really awesome. It would be convenient because, I only say it on my situation because I live on the East Side and my mom lives on the West Side. So, I literally have to drive like an hour and a half before class, go all the way to my moms, drop her off, just to come back to the south side of town,” Bello said.

Texas A&M-SA is the fastest growing university in the A&M system. While there are benefits to being the only university on the south side of San Antonio, there is still so much growth and development to come.

Although the average age has lowered from 32 years of age to nearly a decade less after becoming a four-year university, the university still accommodates many non-traditional students. For students like Katherine Riley, they struggle to find quality childcare on the south side of San Antonio. Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the neighboring community college, Palo Alto, offer childcare for students, but A&M-SA does not.

The question for a childcare center at A&M-SA doesn’t go unanswered. Jo Anne Benavides-Franke, Dean of Students, employed by the university for five years said she sees the need for a childcare facility for non-traditional students, but said other obligations need to be addressed first.

“The campus has discussed childcare in our resources and we’re just still trying to build infrastructure. We don’t even have healthcare for our students, so it’s kind of hard to justify some things when there are still some basic minimum things that we’re still lacking,” Benavidez-Franke said.

Benavidez-Franke added that A&M-SA needs to prioritize where the money is distributed. The need is there, however there are things that the money needs to be applied to first.

Along with Benavides-Franke, the Jaguar Student Parent Organization has plans to work on getting partnerships to establish a childcare facility on campus. However, campus officials say it will take time.

“That’s the beauty of a startup campus, because a startup campus can’t start with everything that every other campus that has spent 30,50,80,100 years building,” Benavides-Franke said.

Benavides-Franke said they are looking for city funds and partnerships so they can offer services that the university is not able to pay for.

Vice President of business affairs at A&M-SA, William Spindle said childcare, along with clinics, are part of the university’s master plan.   

“We are putting a development out in the tower that will have housing and possibly childcare,” Spindle said. “We are still working on the details because we are still working on the financial structures.”

Spindle said they are working on a private-public partnership, where they will be working with a developer instead of going through the state financial system. The advantage is that the developer use their own money to build, and then the university pays them back similar to a mortgage. This strategy is intended to speed up the building process.

Spindle said if the plans don’t work out in the tower, they have two other options to include childcare, one being in the Recreation Center and the consisting of a charter school on campus with pre-k.

“This will be a lab school for childhood development majors.  That’s the other alternative, is working with an existing school,” Spindle said.

Spindle said there is nothing set in stone, but he does consider it an important issue.

A&M-SA is looking at all the options they have to provide childcare for students on campus. Spindle said they want to get it right, because once it’s done it will be permanent.  

“The downside of a childcare is the liability,” Spindle said.  “It’s a lot of work to maintain the right standards and having the right quality teachers and caregivers.”

If childcare were to be provided on campus, students would have to wait at least two to three years before the development of the tower.

While the work of getting childcare on campus is still in the beginning stages, students continue doing the best they can with their situations.

Research done by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research found that 26 percent of all undergraduate students are raising dependent children, and 56 percent of single parents devote more than 30 work time hours per week to dependent care. This leads to financial issues for young parents.

Junior political science major, Kayla Salway, described her struggles with finding childcare for her daughter while she is in school and working. She is a student worker in the activities center who gets paid enough to cover her daughter’s daycare and a little bit of gas money. It is located far from campus which concerns her if anything were to ever happen to her.

“We are on the south side and there are a lot of people who are in poverty, so a lot of us can’t even afford to put our kids in daycare,” Salway said.

Many students have to resort to bringing their children with them to class. President of Jaguar Student Parent Organization, Katherine Riley said she can sometimes look to her mom to care for her daughter, but their schedules don’t always align. She feels that a lot of single parents on campus have the same struggle which is why she started the Jaguar Student Parent Organization. They are a registered organization with Student Activities. https://jagsync.tamusa.edu/organization/jaguarparents

Riley said that getting daycare on the south side is difficult. There are programs available such as Pre-K 4 SA or Avance, but not everyone is eligible and it is difficult to get into Pre-K 4 SA.

“It’s a lottery pick and it’s really hard to get into,” Riley said.

For a child to attend Pre-K 4 SA for free, they have to live within the city of San Antonio, must live within the participating school districts and the child has to be four years of age. Also, the child must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Must be an English learner
  • Be a dependent of an active duty member of the military
  • The family of the child is considered homeless
  • Receive SNAP benefits  

Pre-K 4 SA does have open slots for tuition students. Qualifications for tuition students are parents that live within San Antonio, but are not in participating districts or based on the household income.

For more information on the tuition by household and other enrollment requirements visit prek4sa.com.

There are more existing organizations for childcare in San Antonio, but the south side is lacking the most considering the income level. Data from IncomeByZipCode.com shows the median income in the 78224 area in San Antonio is $45,000.

Martinez Street Women’s Center, is a San Antonio non-profit organization that works with kids outside of school to empower them through education. Girl Zone program manager, Victoria Ramirez said the program works to help girls on the east side of the city.

“Ensuring that they have a safe place to be, making sure that we are an open center and space where the girls know that they can find that place to get away from whatever it is going on in their lives or in their neighborhoods,” Ramirez said.

Expanding this organization or similar and new ones would be helpful considering the severity of the south side child care desert. In addition to the lack of quality child care locations, there is also the issue of funding and changes including cost over the years in existing locations.

Child Development Specialist, Theresa De Leon works in the daycare at Palo Alto College Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children The Ray Ellison Family Center (REFC) at Palo Alto College. It was established in 2001 and is licensed to provide daily services to 66 children between the ages of 18 months to 5-years-old. She said that in her years at The Ray Ellison Family Center there have been changes. Through the years the Family Center has lost funding and seen a drop in enrollment.    

De Leon said she doesn’t know why the Family Center isn’t free anymore, but she feels that it had to do with the change of directors of the campus throughout the years.  

“It wasn’t meant to be for-profit,” De Leon said.  “Mr. Ellison wanted it for the students, to help the south side students.”

A $40 registration fee is required every semester for each child. Parents don’t have to be a student to enroll their child, but non-Palo Alto students pay a higher fee. The starting weekly tuition for a student starts at $160 and community member fee starts at $186, depending on the age of the child.

De Leon said that it is strange to her that Palo Alto College would implement and increase a fee for child care, yet the funds are not showing in the center. An agreed playscape for the kids outside went unfinished, and she said they also aren’t paying the care specialists more with the increase in cost.

“It’s the funding and resources,” De Leon said.

De Leon said that although it can be easier and more affordable to simply drop children off anywhere, they won’t learn anything that way. Whereas at the family center, she knows they’re learning.

The San Antonio Express-News published an article about child care challenges in Bexar County on Nov. 11. This is an issue beyond the campus of A&M-SA and even the south side.

“Only 6 percent of all child care providers in Bexar County are certified as quality programs through Texas Rising Star, the state’s quality rating system for early childhood education programs.”

This article also said that there needs to be more investment towards quality child care because, often times child care teachers are not well trained, no more than a high school diploma required and get paid low wages.

Salwey said she enrolled her daughter in a daycare for a short time where she was sitting in front of a TV eating sweets. She had to remove her from that care facility in order to get her into one where she would be learning. Some students have found better options and resources.

Junior biology major, Ashley Aguilar secured better resources for her children. It comes at a cost, but either way she has these options available. She pays for an after-school program for her daughter to be cared for until about 6 p.m. when she coordinates someone to go and take her home. In addition, she has a family emergency plan through her job.

“They have what’s called Backup Childcare, but it’s only in cases of emergency or things like that. It’s not something that I can just have her in which would be a lot more convenient. And it’s $10 a day,” Aguilar said.

Many working parents on the campus of A&M-SA, do not have any type of support from their jobs that provide the tools and resources they need for them to do their job effectively.

Lack of childcare on the south side has made it harder for parents to get ahead in life.

Parents want a childcare center that is affordable, accessible and up to standard.

The Jaguar Student Parent Organization is working in the beginning stages of getting quality child care to A&M-SA’s campus, along with many of the University’s officials. The parent organization held a meeting on Thursday, December 6th to discuss plans about the future of A&M-SA’s campus including child care.

For more information on The jaguar student parent organization go to JagSync.

 

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