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PEOPLE : Caring for Students' Children : All 9 L.A. community colleges offer programs so parents won't have a barrier to return to school. But it is not a baby-sitting service.

October 30, 1992|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to Valley Life. and

Kathy Marks couldn't study chemistry without Pierce College's Child Development Center. She wouldn't be able to afford the child care for her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina, and still go to school, she said.

Marks, 29, of Panorama City, takes Kristina to Pierce's child center in Woodland Hills five days a week, from 8 a.m. to noon, while she attends classes to prepare for a career in environmental science. "I'm paying $180 a month for the child care," she says, "and comparable programs cost $100 a week."

Pierce, Valley and Mission colleges--and Cal State Northridge--offer low-cost child care to parents who are enrolled in the schools. All nine Los Angeles community colleges have offered the program for 17 years; CSUN's center has been there for 18. Each is unique in its approach and philosophy, but all are geared to the campus calendar and to the hours students most need child care.

The purpose of the community college centers is "to remove child care as a barrier to return to school," said Kathleen Reiter, director of Pierce's center. The program at Pierce, like the other community colleges, accommodates 60 children at a time and offers a traditional, developmentally oriented day that includes art activities, drama, listening and outdoor play, said Reiter. "It's an early-education program--not a baby-sitting service--and it is staffed by teachers with bachelor's and master's degrees in early childhood development," she said.

The four-classroom Child Development Center at Valley College in Van Nuys offers a day program until 3 p.m. but also provides care for children from kindergarten to age 14 from 5:45 until 10 p.m. The evening staff helps children with their homework, provides art projects and leads them in outdoor activities, said Dorothy Kaplan, community and student services assistant at Valley.

Parents don't have to be attending school full time, said Kaplan, but the amount of child care for which they qualify depends on the number of courses they are taking.

For many parents, the day-care center offers more than convenience. The low-cost, sliding-scale fee system makes child care far more affordable than other programs. "The prevailing comment I hear from parents is that they couldn't have done it--gone to school--without child care," Kaplan said.

A 1991 community college district survey of the child-care centers showed that more than 50% of the parents of children enrolled were single and 34% were on Aid to Families With Dependent Children, Kaplan said. At Valley College, 30% of the participating parents earned less than $750 a month. One-third of the parents are pursuing health-care careers, while others are learning English or taking business or family development courses, Kaplan said.

The waiting lists can be long. The list at Valley College has 139 potential students, the largest number of people to seek service, she said. At Pierce College, the waiting list had 81 names at mid-year last year, but Reiter said the center is adding 15 afternoon spaces this year thanks to a $140,000 state preschool grant.

CSUN's Associated Students Children's Center accommodates 120 children, mostly those of students--with a few spaces for staff, faculty and community kids. The center charges on a sliding scale, with a $2.35-an-hour maximum, said Arlene Rhine, the center's director. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays and until 5:30 p.m. Fridays, the children can get breakfast, lunch and dinner and have access to computers, outdoor play and a wide range of educational activities.

CSUN's waiting list is small, said Rhine, who said he thinks the recession has affected working parents and forced them to pull back from seeking higher education.

Comel Fulton is a pre-nursing student at Pierce, with a 4-year-old daughter, Tarra, who has been attending the center since she was 2. For Fulton, 27, a Canoga Park single parent who is expecting her second child, child care has been free at Pierce because she receives AFDC and participates in Greater Avenues for Independence, a city program that tries to help people get off welfare. She had been paying $80 a week for part-time child care, before she found the Pierce program.

"The teachers were great. And without the program, I couldn't have afforded to go to school," Fulton said.

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