Rosemaliza Kamalludeen wakes up every morning at 6:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and get her children ready for school.
Her husband takes their 8-year-old to the bus stop for Gilbert Linkous Elementary School. She takes their 4-year-old to the bus stop for Head Start. They drop their 5-month-old off with a babysitter.
Then they go to class.
The Kamalludeens are just one of many families finishing their education at Virginia Tech while raising children.
“It’s not easy,” Kamalludeen said.
Kamalludeen, a 33-year-old doctoral student in career and technical education, and her husband, a master’s student studying civil engineering, have had to learn how to balance the responsibilities of being both parents and students.
“You sort of learn how to do things quickly,” she said.
Molly Hall’s morning routine is similar to Kamalludeen’s. Hall, a doctoral student of educational research and evaluation, and her husband, an assistant professor of urban affairs at Tech, also balance child care and education.
Hall said it could often take up to two hours for both of them, along with their 15-month-old son, to have breakfast and get ready to leave the house.
“I have to get my son’s stuff together, I have to get my stuff together. It takes a long time,” Hall said.
After Hall takes her son to daycare, she goes to campus. She works an assistantship 20 hours per week in addition to taking 12 credit hours. After taking 10 years off of school to support her husband’s doctoral studies in California, Hall said she is thrilled to be studying again.
“I’m glad I didn’t put school off any longer,” she said. “It’s busy, but I’m happy to be learning again.”
Faculty, staff, graduate students and even some undergraduate students are forced to deal with not just their lives as students but as parents.
Blacksburg has a multitude of opportunities for families who need extra support in the form of child care during the day while parents attend to their own work or school during the day.
“WE CARE FOR CHILDREN, NOT FOR DAYS”: TECH’S SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP WITH ONE CHILD CARE CENTER
At first glance, 1800 Ramble Road looks like any other building.
Behind its front door, however, lies an open, sun-lit, three-story child care center. The scent of fresh snickerdoodle cookies permeates the rooms. Children’s voices reverberate through the halls.
Adjacent to the Corporate Research Center, the new Rainbow Riders Child Care Center has served nearly 250 children since it opened in August 2009.
Rainbow Riders director Kristi Snyder said the child care center was selected in 2008 for a special partnership with Tech. It was one of many child care centers that applied for a $500,000 grant to be paid annually over the course of five years in $100,000-increments to support its new facility.
The grant money will supplement tuition rates, which range from $75 per month to $690 per month, depending on the children’s ages, and when and how frequently they attend the center.
Rainbow Riders’ original facility still supports about 200 students on North Knollwood Drive, Snyder said.
Its location on Ramble Road, however, is designed to expand child care services specifically to faculty, staff and students connected with Tech and the CRC.
According to the overview of the partnership agreement, 60 percent of Rainbow Riders’ children must be those of Tech faculty, staff and graduate students, 12 percent must be children of parents employed by companies based in the CRC and another 12 percent must be children of individuals otherwise associated with the university.
The remaining 16 percent is available to members of the New River Valley community.
Rainbow Riders cares for children between the ages of 6 weeks old and 12 years old in multiple programs, including part-time, full-time, and special “schooler” programs for school-aged children.
Snyder said, “Variety is an important part of all activities.”
Rainbow Riders also has a large, empty gym space in its basement area that features a basketball hoop at one end.
Snyder said the gym area was especially useful during the past couple of weeks of snow days, when kids as old as 12 had to be occupied during the day, while Tech classes were still in session.
“CHILDREN’S PLAY IS THEIR WORK”: SELECTING A CHILD CARE CENTER
Along with Rainbow Riders, there are about 20 child care centers listed near the Blacksburg area.
Three are very close to Virginia Tech: The on-campus Child Development Center for Learning and Research, located on 140 Wallace Hall, Rainbow Riders and Blacksburg Day Care on University City Boulevard, across from the Math Emporium.
Others, slightly farther away from Tech, include the Bright Beginnings Daycare and Preschool on Whipple Drive and the Children’s Garden Primary School on Gladewood Drive.
Many child care centers in Blacksburg enjoy a rich partnership with Tech because of their proximity to the university.
Karen Gallagher and Lynn Ann Wolf work for the Child Development Center for Learning and Research as assistant director and curriculum director, respectively. The Center which has been part of Tech since the 1940s. Gallagher said it has been housed in 140 Wallace Hall since the 1960s.
The Child Development Center became a full-time facility in January 2005 because of increased interest from parents. A survey was taken of all faculty and staff, Gallagher said, which indicated more parents wanted full-time care options for their children.
Although the Child Development Center is housed on-campus, Wolf said the center is “self-supporting,” meaning that it is not funded by university money.
Tuition is $815 per month for the toddler room and $790 per month for the young and older preschool rooms. This tuition fully funds the Center, Wolf said.
The Child Development Center accepts only 40 students per year, who are divided by age into three different color groups.
Jennifer Huggler, a classroom teacher in the “blue room,” works with children between 15 and 31 months of age. She said the Child Development Center’s small atmosphere helps teachers and parents connect.
“You get to know the students and parents really well,” she said.,
Huggler will move up with the children she currently teaches as they progress through their age group categories. When they graduate the center, she will cycle back down to the lowest age group.
Wolf, the Child Development Center’s curriculum director, said students are encouraged to take the lead in their lessons, also known as “investigations.”
“The interests of the children are what we look at,” she said.
Wolf said something as simple as the students taking interest in a puddle could dictate the next week’s lessons, which could then range in subject from the water cycle to the ecosystem.
Wolf also said the children are encouraged to work with “open ended natural materials” while doing crafts to help convey their ideas.
A major feature that distinguishes the Child Development Center from many other daycare centers is its emphasis on research. All classroom teachers record and analyze their interactions with the children to try to understand how to better help them learn.
“They not only teachers, they’re researchers,” Wolf said.
Many teachers from the Child Development Center have presented to conferences on childhood learning locally and nationally.
The Child Development Center has hosted numerous Tech students, mainly human development majors who work with the children as part of their field study hours. Because of its close proximity to the university, students from other majors have also gotten involved with the Center.
Last school year, a group of senior engineering students assisted the Child Development Center by building a solar energy driven play place.
“They came in and consulted with the children and collected data and information with them,” Wolf said.
The engineers helped lead the children on a series of “investigations” focused on the sun and solar energy. They then, as part of their senior design project, built a new feature on the playground behind Wallace Hall.
The play area is activated by both motion and sound. Children walking or screaming in the play area can light up a sun on top of the structure. This light is collected by solar panels.
Gallagher said “the opportunities to work with the university” are among the biggest benefits the Child Development Center enjoys.
Teachers frequently take their students on field trips to the Duck Pond, Drillfield and Blacksburg Transit.
The Blacksburg Daycare Center on University City Boulevard also takes advantage of its close proximity to Tech as well as Radford University.
Blacksburg Daycare serves a larger selection of children, its director Leah Wechtaluk-McFarren said.
About 100 children ages six weeks through age 12 years old attend Blacksburg Daycare in both full-day and part-time programs.
Blacksburg Daycare also emphasizes trying to let its children play and interact with its teachers despite the larger amount of children enrolled in its programs.
“We try to give children choices,” Wechtaluk-McFarren said. “We try to keep ratios down.”
Wechtaluk-McFarren, a 2003 Tech alumnus with a degree in human development and psychology, said many of her students’ parents are affiliated with both Tech and Radford University.
She said the parents help make Blacksburg Daycare strong.
“The parent-teacher council really enhances the program,” Wechtaluk-McFarren said. “Parents are really invested, and we have a policy of family inclusion.”
Blacksburg Daycare is located adjacent to Tech’s English Language Institute on University City Boulevard. Wechtaluk-McFarren said many students and employees of the Institute bring their children to Blacksburg Daycare because it is so close.
“It seems to be a real asset,” Wechtaluk-McFarren said. “It creates a diverse, multicultural environment here.”
Wechtaluk-McFarren said Blacksburg Daycare “tries to keep its prices competitive.”
Students’ tuitions range from $240 to $450 per month depending on the age of the child.
Farther from campus, Bright Beginnings Daycare and Preschool on Whipple Drive provides child care from parents.
Owner Linda Taylor and her husband bought the daycare in April 2008. Their son, then two years old, attended Bright Beginnings.
Taylor and her husband are both child therapists. Taylor said the curriculum at Bright Beginnings emphasizes “learning through play” and “teaching approaches of what is acceptable behavior.”
Bright Beginnings has 50 children, aged six weeks through five years old. Parents pay between $571 and $650 per month.
Another feature at Bright Beginnings, Taylor said, is a once-per-week Kindermusik teacher who is trained in a program that incorporates instruments and puppets.
“Music and movement are important,” Taylor said.
“We incorporate our curriculum into play,” she said.
For older children, the Children’s Garden Primary School offers a pre-school program for 35 children aged three through five.
Co-director and co-owner Christina Mathai said she and her business partner Terry Tetttinger believe pre-schools are where life lessons are truly learned.
“It’s important to remember this kind of environment is designed to help people succeed in life,” Mathai said.
Children’s Garden prides itself on its small teacher-student ratios. Students pay between $225 and $450 per month depending on their part time or full time attendance to participate in small groups that generally provide teacher-student ratios of one to five, Mathai said.
“The quality of our teachers is indescribable,” she said.
“BEING A PARENT IS YOUR BIGGEST RESPONSIBILITY”
Although there are a multitude of child care options available to parents like the Kamalludeens and the Halls, the reality is that at the end of the day, no matter where children have spent their time, parents are still responsible for their children.
Kamalludeen and her husband are both taking 12 credit hours this semester. After spending the day on campus, she said, they pick up their 5-month-old from the babysitter around 3 p.m. before picking up their 4-year-old and 8-year-old from elementary school.
After dinner and a plethora of household chores, Kamalludeen said her children are usually in bed by 9 p.m. Then, she and her husband start their homework.
“Sometimes you wish you had 30 hours in a day,” Kamalludeen said.
After completing her undergraduate degree at New York University and her master’s degree in Malaysia, Kamalludeen and her husband had both worked, having to leave their children in daycare for long hours.
Now that they’re both back in school, she said, they actually get to spend more time with their kids.
“Being students, we get more time because of flexibility,” she said. “I’m able to schedule more time with my family.”
Hall also said she appreciated the time she is now able to spend with her family. After 10 months of staying home with her son, she said she now doesn’t take any time with him for granted.
Hall said the biggest challenge for her family was locating daycare for her son after moving to Blacksburg from California in December 2008.
“We moved here when he was two months old, but everyone else had been on lists for 10 months,” Hall said.
She recommends new parents place their children on waitlists for spots in daycare centers as soon as they become pregnant.
Hall said the opening of the new Rainbow Riders facility helped open more spots in other area daycares.
“There are a lot of facilities that were full but now they aren’t,” she said.
Hall said although it can be stressful to balance obligations as a mother and a student, to her, the experience is ultimately worth the challenges.
“School is something I’m doing for me that will ultimately benefit my son and my family,” she said, “and that really makes me a better mom.”