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Parents struggle to find childcare options on campus

Children at the Parenting Lounge. (Alixandra Greenman)

Parenting Student Ieeshea Romero is leaving Mills College this semester without a degree.

The 30-year-old MBA student says the pressure of balancing school, work and mothering is becoming unmanageable.

For Romero and many other parenting students, the lack of affordable childcare on campus has become a barrier to success.

“My kids go to daycare in San Francisco where I work, but when I come to Mills, I don’t have any other resources,” Romero said.

Although she would like to send her two kids to the Children’s School, the campus’ laboratory school founded in 1926, she said the cost makes it unrealistic.

“The tuition is $13,000 to $14,000 a year per child and I’m paying less than that right now for two kids,” said Romero. “It’s ridiculous. When I calculated it out, between my tuition and theirs, it came to almost $70,000 a year.”

Her story is not unique. In a 2008 survey by the College’s Child Care Task Force published in early 2009, many Mills mothers said they could not afford the available childcare options on campus.

The lack of accessibility often leads to a host of other problems, according to the head of the Task Force, Vice President and General Counsel Therese Leone.

“People talked a lot about missing class due to lack of childcare and about the stress of having to figure out childcare needs as well as keeping up with school.”

The survey had 250 participants, 88 of whom indicated an immediate need for childcare.

“We’ve heard from faculty, staff and students that this continues to be an issue,” Leone said.

Parenting Lounge Manager Yen Do, a current 4+1 graduate public policy student, said she couldn’t agree more with Leone’s assessment. As a mother herself, Do has become a strong advocate for other parenting students and affordable childcare.

“When I chose Mills over UC Berkeley, I was shocked to find that there were fewer resources for mothers at Mills, a women’s college,” Do said.

Romero said she felt similarly disheartened by this perceived inconsistency.

“Being an all women’s school and having all this money and this reputation of support and strength to empower women of color — or women in general — that’s why I wanted to go to this school,” Romero said.

As she prepares to leave, however, Romero said she feels the College did not live up to its reputation.

“To be truly honest, I am so unhappy with Mills,” she said, “because I was really under the impression that we had a strong support system with childcare.”

Debra Brown, Head of the Children’s School, said the school’s primary objective is that of a laboratory school, dedicated to training graduate students enrolled in the School of Education.

“We are at the center of the School of Education’s credentialing program. Our students who are enrolled in early childhood education often have their practicum here,” Brown said.

She explained that the school’s mission is threefold: to support research of Mills faculty and students, to prepare pre-service educators and to provide a play-based constructivist program for children.

Brown suggested that an entirely new model might be necessary to provide affordable childcare to students.

“It would look like a whole different school, I guess, if we could really be satisfied that we had completely done enough… because that would mean, to me, that any student who came over could know they could have their child here. And it isn’t feasible. It isn’t possible,” she said.

The Children’s School does not receive funding from the College. It is a member of the East Bay Independent Schools Association (EBISA), and as a tuition-based entity, the school relies on the income provided by its fees. The result is that the vast majority of the school’s parents are from the outside community. Brown estimates that only 10 to 15 percent are Mills parenting students.

Nonetheless, students like Do are not short on ideas for solutions.

In fact, the public policy major has put her skills to use by submitting a three-step proposal to Leone for how to meet the needs of parenting students.

“I’ve used the methods taught by Professor Chetkovich to draft a three-point plan outlining short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions to this problem,” Do said.

Do and Leone plan to meet this week to review the content of the proposal.

“For the long-term, we could possibly turn an existing building that meets state standards into a childcare center while soliciting for endowment to build an entirely new center,” Do said. “Set aside from the Children’s School, there needs to be another facility that addresses the needs of our parenting population.”

The Children’s School offers an infant/toddler program, two preschool programs and a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school.