Long Beach City College Is Testing The Waters On Expanded Child Care
Suaya Montoya is a new enrollee at LBCC, majoring in child development. Back in 2014, she had tried to enroll in college, but had three small children with special needs, and without child care — she just couldn’t swing it.
“I literally had to quit,” Montoya said. “And that was devastating for me as a person who's a go-getter. I had to really put it all on hold.”
But this year she’s gotten some vital support while she pursues a degree in child development.
For the first time, Long Beach City College is partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach to provide free child care to student parents working on their degrees, at age ranges not typically seen in a college child care program.
Support For Student Parents
Montoya enrolled in Long Beach City College last August, the same semester that the college launched its pilot partnership.
Named the “Vikings Kids Club,” the after-school program is for children ages 5 through 17, designed to provide homework help and fun activities for the kids while their parents are in class or studying nearby.
“I can't tell you how important that is to me to know that I can come to school, and my child can be here not far from my class,” Montoya said. “That's tremendous for me.”
For Montoya’s son, 14-year-old Antonio, being at the after-school club is more engaging than sitting in a classroom. Antonio has ADHD, and likes that the club offers everything from music lessons to communication skills to sports. Sometimes he does homework, sure. But sometimes he’s practicing his beatboxing while his classmates keep time; he’s working toward entering an international competition in Tokyo this October.
Antonio said the staff knows how to mediate conflict, particularly because such a wide age range of kids is represented at the program.
“They know how to interact with kids and they know how to fix problems when nobody else does,” Antonio said.
The College Puts Out Feelers
More than 1,000 student parents have enrolled at Long Beach City College since the COVID-19 pandemic began, said college president Mike Muñoz. Although many colleges, including LBCC, have some kind of child care program available, they're often a form of preschool for children ages 2-5.
Federal data suggest that as many as one in five college students may be a parent. According to Jake Brymner, deputy director for policy and public affairs at the California Student Aid Commission, nearly 22,000 students enrolled in a California community college use financial aid.
When Long Beach City College disseminated a poll this past August, around 100 parents said they would be interested in using an expanded child care service that included older children.
The pilot started with 40 student parents in the fall semester.
“I think what's unique about this program, most community colleges have child development centers, but they serve typically children ages 2 to 5,” Muñoz said. “And so many of our students who have been struggling, re-enrolling at the college after the pandemic, they report to us that they've had issues securing quality child care, and affordable child care.”
A former student parent himself, Muñoz says child care needs to be available at every level of higher education.
“My daughter was still in diapers when I was attending community college,” Muñoz said. After he transferred to UC Irvine, he gained access to child care services and family housing resources.
“And so it always kind of frustrated me that at the UC level or the CSU level, we build these systems in a way that supports the whole student," he said, "but in the community college system, you know, ultimately that responsibility is placed on the student to find those kinds of supports.”
Creating A Safe Place
Muñoz said LBCC intends to scale the program to support “as many of our Long Beach City College students who are parents as possible.”
Suaya said the LBCC child care program didn’t just enable her to go back to school — it gave her son a safe space to just be himself. She said most kids feel isolated and programs where they can make friends are few and far between.
“He knows he's going to be treated with kindness and respect and acknowledged. He's going to be provided a place where he's safe,” Suaya said. “He doesn't feel stressed, pressured. He doesn't have anxiety here. He's free.”
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