Unbeknownst to many students, the AS Child Development Center (CDC) has been offering valuable help to student parents for more than 30 years.

Located in the Fairhaven stack 11 dorms, the CDC offers care to 56 children. According to Patricia Ashby, manager of the CDC, children of Western students get first priority, followed by children of faculty and staff who need childcare.

“Back in 1971 families got together and petitioned to start the CDC,” Ashby said. “In 1972 it opened in the Fairhaven dorms with 53 children. Right from the first the center was full and had a wait list.”

The center is a parent cooperative; they help by working parent hours at the center as a way to keep the cost down, Ashby said.

“Twenty five percent of funding comes from the Associated Students and the rest is from parent fees,” Ashby said. “Also, we have received some short term grants in the past.”

Ashby is fairly new to the CDC and is excited to be working in Bellingham and at Western.

“The previous director was here for 30 plus years,” Ashby said. “I have been here for 10 months and I came from the Children's Hospital in Seattle. I am excited to be in a learning environment again.”

The existence of the CDC is not widely known, even to incoming student parents, so they work hard to spread the word to students who need the service.

“We contact the admissions office and registrar office to make sure they know we are here. We also work closely with the transfer office,” Ashby said. “You can't ask students if they have children, so sometimes it is hard to share and access that information. A lot of it is word of mouth, posters, brochures and articles.”

In addition to having six certified teachers, the CDC supports students who are interested in careers in education, or simply enjoy working with children.

“We have 35 student employees who rotate through depending on their school commitment,” Ashby said.

In addition to offering employment to students, the CDC works closely with the Woodring School of Education.

Eileen Hughes, director of the Early Childhood Education program in Woodring, works with the staff at CDC each term through the classes she teaches as students complete assignments in their classrooms.

Also, Woodring and CDC have been working on Reggio Emilia's philosophy of teaching. According to Ashby, two teachers from the center are going to Boulder, Colorado, for a national Reggio Emilia Conference.

“It is a more forward-thinking concept and becoming much more popular in this country,” Ashby said. “It is an approach to early childhood education that has a lot to do with viewing the child as competent and an active learner. You do a lot of observation and documentation of each child, and through reflection you set a plan for each individual child.”

According to Hughes, the Reggio Emilia approach to education follows these principles: viewing children as having potential, children and teachers are researchers, children have many languages to expressive themselves, family and community relationships are important, and the environment for young children is another teacher.

“We are inspired with this approach as we are trying to build communities of learners that support children to think, learn and construct knowledge,” Hughes said. “We are trying to create a learning community at the CDC where teachers meet to share documented experiences of the children from their classroom.”

Being located on Western's campus means that the center has a wide variety of opportunities available to them and the children.

“We provide a routine and structure. The teachers all have lesson plans and topics of interest that they are exploring with the children,” Ashby said. “This spring we are doing a lot in The Outback. We have a plot there and the children are learning to grow and weed, and they are looking at bugs. The children also have access to the pool and do swimming lessons; they go to the gym one day a week, and have cooking projects.”

According to Ashby, the CDC has a three-fold mission. The first goal is to support student parents by providing a safe, developmentally appropriate place to bring their children and build community. Secondly, they want to provide quality childcare and learning for the children by giving a safe, nurturing place where they can explore and socialize. Finally, the CDC strives to provide opportunities for students at Western to work or do observations with children.

“People stay here a long time, our staff has been here for awhile,” Ashby said. “I think we are very fortunate to be on Western's campus and provide this type of service.”