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Service that is child’s play

Photos and Story by

Niraja Whitlow, childcare specialist

Niraja Whitlow, childcare specialist

For Sonya Stevens, running the Rock Creek Children’s Center is all fun and games.

Located in Room 103 of Building 3, the center is hard to miss. Green chain-linked fencing surrounds the new play area adjacent to the center, complete with a new playhouse. Inside, Stevens and her crew used funds from the college to setup a brand new loft to help with learning and the fun.

“The college has been very supportive,” Stevens said. “They’ve helped to find funds for things we need, such as the loft and basic supplies. They’ve created the outside play space exactly how I envisioned it to be and built a space that is natural. It’s fantastic.”

On any weekday, you can hear the children hard at play, either creating unique projects or simply engaged in fun games.

“We believe in early childhood education through play,” she added. “We want to create an environment that is inviting for the children. We want them to experience new and different things each day. We base the environment on the children’s interest.”

The preschool childcare center, established in the spring of 2006, offers half-day and full-day slots for children between the ages of 3 and 5 and who are completely toilet trained. Priority is given to students who are Pell-eligible and enrolled full-time at the campus. In the evening, childcare serves ages 3 to 12 and activities include arts and crafts, play time, reading and quiet time.

The indoor space is not huge, but large enough to allow the 16 children to move freely from activity to activity. At the tub, they spoon up and dump soapy water. At the new loft, kids play and explore early literacy. And at a table, a child can simply draw or write.

Other activities focus on projects that explore diversity such as picking out their eye color and figuring out what their skin tone is. If you visit the Rock Creek cafeteria in Building 3 you’ll find one of their recent projects on display. Each child had their silhouette drawn and they used paint to match their skin tone and hair from a wig to match their hair color.

“We have children from many different and diverse backgrounds,” Stevens said. “They speak a total of seven languages among them and many are second generation to this country. Anti-bias projects such as this one are designed to explore diversity.”

The projects aren’t confined to just the indoor playroom or the playground. Stevens regularly has the children take tours of the campus. Some of the places they visit include the community garden, green houses, and the Rock Creek Farm where sheep, cows and a llama abound.

Stevens, a graduate of the University of Idaho (bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies) and the University of Phoenix (master’s degree in Adult Education), should know what children like. She came to the Rock Creek Campus in 2005 after working for five years as an adjunct faculty at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash. She has worked with Early Head Start and supervised childcare services for the YWCA.

Photo of ChildIn 2005, PCC was awarded a four-year, $563,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) funds go to support childcare services for low-income PCC students at the Sylvania Campus; expand the Rock Creek Campus childcare center to offer daytime services; and partner for a childcare center near the Cascade Campus.

The idea of the grant is to meet the high demand of the nearly 2,700 Pell Grant-eligible student-parents that attend PCC every year. With long waiting lists for childcare services, the money is sorely needed. These student-parents, many of whom are older, single and first-generation college students, face childcare and other challenges to earning a degree.

“This helps low-income students get access,” Stevens said. “Childcare centers on campus are directly affected by college enrollment. The more students there are, childcare will have to expand as well. The ratio of child-to-teacher doesn’t go over eight-to-one. But because we hold to a higher standard the ratio is usually lower at six-to-one.”

For more information, contact the children’s center, or call 503-614-7511.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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