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Child Center Born on Campus

Education: Two student moms attending Cal State Channel Islands start a day-care program, a proud CSU tradition.


By any measure, on any college campus, this would qualify as a full load.

In between classes at Cal State Channel Islands, when other students are hitting the books or snacking on brain food, Christine Rodrigues and Nicole Manzano chase after children--their own and those of fellow students.

The young mothers, founders of the Baby Dolphin Childcare Co-op, take turns feeding the youngsters, changing diapers and putting them down for naps. They lead them on excursions across the recently opened campus and ply them with cheese crackers and vanilla wafers to get them through the day.

And, when they get a minute to breathe, they plot a strategy for turning the fledgling cooperative into a model child-care center like those on other college campuses.

"We want this to be something that will be around long after we're gone," said Manzano, a 22-year-old business major who brings her 1-year-old son, Sebastian, to school with her each day. "It's going to take a lot of work, but we know we can do it."

They know they can because it has been done on college campuses across California.

From San Diego to Sonoma, each of the 22 other campuses in the Cal State University system has a child-care center of some kind, many launched by parents in the same grass-roots fashion as the one slowly emerging at the system's newest campus near Camarillo. Those programs are among approximately 1,800 child-care centers at private and public colleges nationwide.

Within the Cal State system, many of the centers are subsidized in part by the CSU general fund, Associated Students groups and a mix of state and federal child-care dollars.

And many have developed reciprocal relationships with teacher preparation and childhood education programs: The academic programs provide a steady stream of interns for the centers while giving students a chance to apply in the real world what they're learning in class.

Most important, center directors say the campus programs fill a pressing need for college students, many of whom might veer off track in their pursuit of higher learning if there weren't someone available to watch their kids.

"On many of our campuses, our students are nontraditional. They are older, they work, they've got families and they go to school," said Pamela Kisor, director of the child-care center at Cal State Los Angeles. "Many are also lower-income, so they are struggling with a lot of pressures. These centers are profoundly important because they improve access to higher education."

Kisor, who is on the board of the National Coalition for Campus Children's Centers and serves on a Cal State consortium of child-care providers, said the need at her center is evidenced by the yearlong waiting list, which can swell to as many as 100 families.

The Cal State L.A. center was founded in 1968 and is the oldest in the CSU system. It has the capacity to care for 62 children. But after a 10-year fund-raising effort, Kisor said capacity is set to more than double in March when the center unveils a new wing.

The program has come a long way since a handful of student parents launched the effort to meet their own child-care needs.

"I know they can do it," Kisor said of the Channel Islands effort, "because it was done here."

It happened almost by accident at Cal State Channel Islands.

Although Rodrigues and Manzano attended Oxnard College before transferring to the Camarillo campus, they didn't meet until this summer, when they attended orientation together. They separately asked university officials whether child care would be available at the new campus.

Sensing a potential opportunity, officials put the two women together and asked them to make their best pitch.

By the start of the school year last month, university officials had found a room to house the day-care program. The student development office found a rug to cover the bare floor and provided a phone. The Associated Students loaned a television and VCR, and has pledged to funnel some of the proceeds from an upcoming fund-raiser to the day-care program.

"I think what you're seeing is a genuine effort on the part of the university to pare down any barriers to education," said Trae Cotton, director of the university's office of student development. "We don't want to have a situation where someone says they can't go to school because they don't have anyone to watch their kids."

Still, as child-care centers go, this one is pretty bare.

Rodrigues and Manzano have brought toys, blankets and a video collection that ranges from the "Best of Sesame Street" to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

And parent Nanette Tobin, a 24-year-old aspiring teacher, dug into her own pocket to supply the center with nursery rhyme posters and paper cutouts of whales, octopuses and dolphins, the latter in honor of the Channel Islands mascot.

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