The foundation to student success in college is laid at centers such as the YWCA University Heights Early Learning Academy.
The learning academy — which provides on-campus child care for UTEP students, faculty and staff — services newborn to 5-year-old children.
The University of Texas at El Paso and the YWCA partnership began in 2012.
“It’s really important that this center is on our campus,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, Ed.D., associate vice president for student engagement and dean of students. “It sends a very positive message that we are committed to education at the earliest of stages.”
She said the YWCA University Heights Early Learning Academy, located at 315 West Schuster Ave., is a great resource for UTEP students.
“A majority of individuals accessing the center are students who have children,” McCorry-Andalis said. “To have a place that is not only safe and secure but a place where they are learning is really empowering for that child and that family, especially as mom and dad are pursuing an education. This is an opportunity to share the vision for the YWCA and our responsibility to educate individuals from preschool all the way through college. Education doesn’t stop in elementary, middle school or high school. We want them to continue all the way to college.”
The learning academy can accommodate up to 142 children. Openings remain for children up to age 5. The academy is a block away from the University, providing easy access for UTEP students, faculty and staff.
“Having the learning academy only a block away from the University has been very convenient for me,” said Jecoa Ross, a doctoral student in history. “It’s just a matter of dropping her off on the way to campus and picking her up on the way home in the afternoon. It’s great.”
Ross has been taking his 2-year-old daughter, Temple, to the learning academy since she was six months old.
“When I leave her off here, my confidence level is as high as it can be that she will be well taken care of,” Ross said. “The times when she has gotten sick, they have called us right away to let us know that she has a fever and we have to pick her up. It’s amazing when some days she will come home singing a song that we know we didn’t teach her and we figure that she learned it at school.”
The academy is staffed with qualified teachers and aides trained through Texas School Ready, a comprehensive preschool teacher training program that combines a research-based, state-adopted curriculum with ongoing professional development to help children be more prepared for kindergarten and beyond.
Lorraine M. Valles, director of the YWCA University Heights Early Learning Academy, said the curriculum consists of social and emotional development, language and communication, reading and writing, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, physical development and technology.
“The children have access to iPads with additional learning programs on there,” she said. “Aside from covering science, social studies, language and math, they are active in reading, storytelling, music and outdoor play. They have activities all day long, every hour on the hour.”
The YWCA operates nine Early Learning Academies with about 500 children in El Paso and has established partnerships with various UTEP departments including Speech Language Pathology, Social Work and Nursing that enable students to complete their practicum and internships at the academy.
“We are able to draw from the experience and the resource partnerships that we have with the faculty at UTEP not only at the UTEP early childhood academy but all of our academies,” said Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region. “They are able to provide empirical research so that we can validate the work that we are doing and we can state, without a doubt, that the work we are doing in our YWCA early childhood learning academies is making an impact academically, emotionally and socially with the children that we care for.”
Acosta said the UTEP-YWCA partnership is invaluable.
“It’s not very common for universities to have child care available for their students and their faculty,” she said. “For UTEP to have taken the lead and to have worked with us to help establish this center is very valuable. Oftentimes you have students who have kids and that could deter their ability to finish school, but because they have a safe place to drop off their children, they are able to attend classes knowing that their kids are in a safe environment. When they return, it’s reassuring to know that their children have not only been cared for but have been taught. It’s not just childcare, it’s an early learning academy environment because they are learning.”
And the academy is affordable.
For infants ages 12 months and younger, the cost is $115 per week for a full day or $99 a week for less than six hours a day. For children age 1 and older, the cost is $110 a week for a full day or $97 a week for less than six hours a day.
“We are so close to campus so students, faculty and staff have easy access to their children,” Valles said. “We have an open-door policy where they can come and visit their children at any time during the day. For infants we have a breast-feeding room so mothers can come in and breastfeed their children. We are exclusive to UTEP so everybody knows each other. It’s a big family that we have here.”
Author: Victor R. Martinez – UTEP Communications