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College to open on-campus childcare center for children of faculty and staff

The College recently announced plans to open a childcare center on campus for faculty and staff members. There has been discussion for many years about opening a childcare center to meet the needs of working parents at the College. Those plans are finally coming to fruition. Construction is currently underway in Millet House, where the center will be housed and will serve up to 38 children for ten hours a day.

In an interview with The Colby Echo, Provost and Dean of Faculty Magaret McFadden said the College has partnered with Happy Days Childcare and Learning Center in Winslow to open a second branch exclusively for the College.

McFadden said that throughout the years, the College has sent many surveys to faculty and staff who have children and discovered that quality childcare is particularly important and hard to find in the state of Maine. In addition, the survey found that the greatest demand for childcare is for children ages zero to three years old.

A professor who chose to remain anonymous said that, given that the College is a residential campus, snow days pose a particular challenge for faculty with young children. They explained that professors still have to come in for work even if their children’s schools are closed because of inclement weather. On a snow day in the past, the professor panicked because they had no childcare. Thankfully, a colleague in their department offered to babysit.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Nick Jacobs also spoke of how time-consuming parenting and finding childcare are while working at the College.

“Right now I have to travel into town because I don’t live in Waterville. I have to drop my child off in Oakland and I have to drive here. This is an hour of my day,” he said.

Jacobs also shared that he only just finalized childcare plans for his son next year, a process that he and his wife started over a year and a half ago.

Oftentimes, professors have to choose between their professional careers and their home life. Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Sonja Thomas said she could not afford to factor in childcare when she was making the decision to come teach at Colby.

“I only received one [job] offer that particular academic year that I was applying for jobs (2011-12),” Thomas said. “I was coming off of adjuncting which means I was only making money per class I taught—at Rutgers at the time, it was $1,200 per class. I only was able to secure three classes that year and I had a newborn — so you do the math. When I was offered a tenure track, salaried position with health insurance? I would have taken the job no matter what the childcare conditions were and so would so many people. In the corporate academic world, beggars can’t be choosers.”

The pandemic has further exacerbated the existing issues with finding childcare with many local schools remaining closed for in-person learning.

“The pandemic exposed how fragile our childcare system really is. Colby went to great ends to bring you [students] all back but … it also expected professors to come back full-time,” Jacobs noted.

Thomas, a single parent, said because of the pandemic and the College’s decision to resume in-person classes, she has had to leave her ten-year old daughter home alone far too many times. Thomas said affording a nanny is not possible when relying on a single income.

While most faculty and staff with whom The Colby Echo spoke with are grateful for the new center, they all said this change is long overdue. Thomas mentioned that she, Professor Samara Gunter, Professor Jen Coane, Professor Tanya Sheehan (all female professors, Thomas noted) have been vocal for years on this issue. She also thanked Professor Tim Hubbard for amplifying the needs of single parents this year.

McFadden said the College has tried other solutions in the past, including partnering with existing childcare centers. However, those solutions were not very cost effective. For example, eight spots at a local childcare center cost the College $120,000 a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also put things in perspective and allowed the people involved to realize this needs to happen now, McFadden said.

“What we see over and over again is that people with young children have impacts on their career, particularly for young women. This [childcare] was an important way to ensure that faculty can do their best work. That’s what it boils down to. If you know your child is safe and well cared for, you’re not distracted from your work,” she said.

Many other peer institutions do offer childcare services of some sort for faculty and staff. Thomas said she was surprised when she came to the College that none were offered here.

The new childcare center will be partially subsidized by the College to ensure quality, classroom-like spaces as well as enough teachers to meet appropriate teacher to child ratios. The parents of the children will pay the going rate for childcare in the area which is set by the state.

The College did have an internal child care system about 25 years ago. However, it was more of a co-op system with parents of the kids taking turns watching over the children. When it comes to whether Colby students will be eligible to help at the childcare center, McFadden said she is still unsure.

“We have students who play instruments. We have students who are artists. We have students who do all sorts of things. Can we hire students to teach kids about musical instruments or do art with them?” she asked.

McFadden said that the College will have to be mindful of liabilities of non-certified caregivers given child care laws. She shared that this year, Colby students have been able to help out professors through the learning assistant program. Students have utilized Zoom to connect with children of faculty and staff who are at home and help them with school assignments. McFadden says this program has been a success and will run through the end of the school year.

Whether the program will run in following years is yet to be decided, but professors will soon have access to high-quality child care for their children in their workplace.

~ Fiona Huo ‘23

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