Toddlers wearing tiny hard hats and t-shirts bearing the "Class of 2025" held plastic shovels as they prepared to turn the dirt alongside top administrators at The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas System during a groundbreaking ceremony of the newest facility on campus - the Child Development Center.
"It is going to cost $1.5 million, but more importantly than that it is going to be a home away from home for 140 children from the age of three months to four years and they are going to be the children of our students here at the University," UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez said.
Also in attendance was Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president designate who begins her duties at the University Aug. 23, who met with and greeted student-parents before the start of the ceremony.
"This Child Development Center will certainly change the outcome for our students and for our children who will most certainly be our students in the future," Cárdenas said. "Our students at UT Pan American and many South Texas institutions are heroes. They come to the University facing many barriers and for many of them a college education is a risky business, and especially those with children, particularly for women who are raising children alone and often for men who are raising children alone."
"I have a special place in my heart for making life easier for these heroic students. This childcare center will facilitate that success and most importantly it will give credence to an adage 'When you educate a mother, you educate a family.' So when we make it more possible for parents and mothers in getting their degrees, we change the course of their family and that makes this Child Development Center worthwhile and something to be very proud of."
The University of Texas System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof and other system administrators also attended the ceremony.
Yudof said the creation of the UTPA Child Development Center will allow UTPA students to take full advantage of all the resources the University has to offer and alleviate the worries of finding childcare services for many of them.
"One hundred forty small children will receive quality affordable care while their parents make better lives for their children and for their families by completing their college education," Yudof said. "This center will alleviate a lot of those parental worries and free these students to be good students, good parents and good members of the community."
A Childcare Committee in 2001 surveyed more than 1,000 UTPA students, staff and faculty about the feasibility of this type of facility on campus. Based on the survey, research and institutional records, approximately 20 percent of UTPA students have children.
"At the time of the original report there were 1,900 of our students on financial aid that had dependent children. This year there are over 2,200 of our students with dependent children. Our student-parents have told us their priorities include access to education, reliability of service and price," said Sam Smith, director of Enrollment and Student Services Business Services and director of the Student Union.
The University of Texas System approved the project for $1.5 million with $1 million going to construction costs and the remainder going to operations, equipment and program purchases.
Observation windows and cameras will also be installed in the classrooms for UTPA students and faculty looking to do research or observations in early childhood. Elda M. Perez, Child Development Center director, said the center looks forward to building a working relationship with several colleges and departments on campus.
"We hope that the quality childcare we are committed to providing here at the UTPA Child Development Center will provide and serve as a model to others within in our community," Perez said.
Tuition fees for the center will cost between $80-$90 a week for students and $85-$95 for staff and faculty. The UTPA Child Development Center will seek national accreditation from the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and licensure from the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services - Child Care Licensing.
For UTPA student-parents Lilliana Gutierrez, a junior, and Gerardo A. Dominguez, a senior, the Child Development Center will be a godsend for both as they each juggle classes, work and care for their infant son Gerardo A. Dominguez Jr.
Dominguez said when he graduates in May he won't be as concerned about his son's childcare because he knows Gerardo Jr. will be in good hands at the center.
"I know when I graduate and start working I won't have to worry about having to take care of the baby and I know that she (Gutierrez) can come to school and bring the baby here and I can start working on my career," Dominguez said.