January 31, 2007

Parents Concerned Over Closing of Childcare Center

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The Early Childhood Center, located in the College of Human Ecology, will close next semester despite the concerns of some parents that the center to be built in its place will not live up to the standards of the current facility.

For many, the ECC is not just a childcare center; it is a living laboratory devoted to advancing the education of undergrads and children alike.

Instead of focusing on early childhood education, the new center will function primarily as a childcare facility.

Elizabeth Stilwell, director of the ECC, said, “The hope is that the college and department of Human Development will continue the level of overall quality of the program. There is learning happening on a lot of different levels creating a culture of inquiry that is unique to places such as Cornell.”

A primary reason behind the change is different academic priorities.

According to human development department chair Ritch Savin-Williams, “Human development does not have any faculty really involved in early childhood education research. We do have faculty working on early childhood development, but not on early childhood education.”

John Lamson, assistant dean for communications, cited ongoing construction and limited resource availability as one of several reasons behind closing the center. Due to the major renovation plans, he said, children cannot safely be housed in the Martha Van Rensselaer building where the ECC is located.

Many parents and students worry the University does not realize what a unique center it has. Their main concern is that by transforming the childhood development center into a childcare center, the University loses important research opportunities at the expense of the children and the University as a whole.

Abe Stroock, engineering, who has put two children through the program, said, “Cornell doesn’t realize they have a really good, unusual program. Right now, the University has a very unique opportunity to set itself apart from the other Ivies. One value of the center is that it makes Cornell a more attractive employer.”

Stroock added, “They can use the center to entice faculty from metropolitan areas by offering something completely different and new when they already have location going against them, being in the middle of nowhere.”

There has also been some resistance on the part of undergrads to openly embrace the new center. Human Development major Albery Melo ’09 has worked at the ECC since her freshmen year. Due to the structure of the program, Melo was able to directly apply the material she had learned in class to her work in the program. The ECC is renowned for its “work in a play environment.” In her mind, the biggest issue with the transition is that the new childcare center “will simply be a big box.” For Melo, the ECC was a vital part of her Cornell experience and she fears the new center will not offer the same quality of education because the focus of the center is no longer on childhood education.

Vice President of Human Resources Mary Opperman, who is overseeing the development of the new childcare center, admitted “[it] is different from ECC . . . But it is our hope that the center will provide quality child care with hours that respect the needs of our faculty, staff and students.” Lamson further noted that even though the main goal of the new center will no longer focus strictly on childhood education, “faculty and undergraduate research, as well as undergraduate instruction in early childhood development will continue, and in many ways improve.”

Although the new center will increase capacity from 32 to 150 children, some parents expressed their concerns of the center not placing a strong emphasis on childhood education.

Cornell faculty member Connie Park, who has one child in the program, said, “We need childcare period. But the quality of education our children are receiving at the ECC is incomparable. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.” She added that because the ECC is closing and the new center will not place a strong emphasis on childhood education, she will consider alternative plans for her second child.

To others, the new center will lack a personal sense of community.

“The center is more than just observation windows. It fosters community between families, children and staff. It’s a commitment to diversity of people and knowledge, which is what Cornell is about,” said Stilwell.

Correction appended: The Early Childhood Center of the College of Human Ecology is actually scheduled to close in August 2008 not next semester. The Sun regrets this error.