Children’s Center shifts with College management

in June 2008, the College became manager of the Children’s Center, a daycare and after-school program located on Whitman street.
In June 2008, the College became manager of the Children’s Center, a daycare and after-school program located on Whitman street.

The Children’s Center, a daycare and after-school program for children aged six weeks to 12 years, transitioned in June 2008 from management under Child Care of the Berkshires to College management. Now, approximately 16 months later, the Center has maintained elements of the former school, while also having incorporated changes from the new management.

“It’s been a process of bringing families and children along in a program they were accustomed to and making changes to deepen that program,” said Sarah Becker, director of the Children’s Center, who was hired as part of the management transition. The Childcare Committee at the College oversaw the transition to a self-managed program until the end of last year, according to Amy Podmore, professor of art, who served as its chair. Additionally, the Committee clarified policies and advised the formation of a Parents Committee, where parents “offer support for the center and discuss issues relevant to the ongoing activities at the Center,” Podmore described.

Podmore noted that the transition process began several years ago, before the College officially overtook management. She added that only through the support of the College was the new Center made possible.
Becker underscored that being managed by the College has particularly impacted staff members who work for the Center, and that tangible differences exist between being employed by a company and by the College. “Williams really cares about its employees, which has made a big difference for [the Center’s] staff,” she said. “[The College] gives us resources to develop as a team,” she added, referring to both more funding and staff. For example, the Center now works with Human Resources, which facilitates team-building processes.

When Becker arrived on campus, she set goals for the Center’s development, including incorporating Williams students into the program. This plan began to take shape last spring, when students studying psychology started coming to the Center to observe children, and more psychology classes have become involved this fall. Becker expressed hope that students would volunteer at the Center, either by working in one classroom for an extended period of time, or by helping to teach more specialized classes, such as dance movement or environmental studies.
Becker also suggested that students take advantage of the Center by using it to conduct child-related research. Last semester, a photography student working on a project involving photos of elderly and young people came to the Center to take photos. “I’d love to see students think of [the Center] as a resource to help them relate to children,” Becker said.

Approximately 55 children are currently enrolled at the Center, which functions as a full-time daycare for young children and as an after-school and vacation program for school-aged children. Twenty teachers manage six classrooms, with an average of three teachers working in each classroom. The Center could potentially accommodate up to approximately 80 children, and Becker hopes to increase enrollment.

According to Becker, approximately 60 percent of the families are College staff and faculty members, and the remaining 40 percent comes from the larger Williamstown community. Although traditionally most children have been those of faculty members, Becker noted that recently more administrative staff members and College employees from other departments have been coming to the Center. “It’s great to see that open up so we can serve College families more broadly,” she said. “As I build relationships with other departments, more Williams staff become interested in using the Children’s Center for their own children because it is now part of the College.”