Gavin Flynn, age 3, attended the
ELC during the spring semester
Image Credit: ISU Photographic Services

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University Has Been Helping Student-Parents Since the 70s

Idaho State University is home to more than 14,000 students, many of whom have children of their own. Scores of these student-parents not only attend classes, but strive to raise children as well. For these students, the Idaho State University Early Learning Center, or ELC, is an easy and convenient option to ensure that their children are receiving the same high quality education as their parents.

The ELC originated in the 1970s when a group of student-parents wanted a better care system for their children. Since then, the ELC has grown to become one of the largest facilities of its kind in the nation. It has expanded to include a satellite location for the Idaho Falls campus, serving its student-parent population as well.

“The parents who originally launched this idea, they were really sort of pioneers in starting it. It wasn’t a common sight on many campuses,” said ELC Director Kerry Williamson.

Currently, the ELC location in Pocatello is participating in a pilot program with the state of Idaho called the IdahoSTARS Project. IdahoSTARS is a program designed to aid parents by presenting information about quality child care settings. IdahoSTARS also aims to support child care providers with an assortment of professional development opportunities and resources. This is an exciting opportunity for the ELC to help launch this program, and is a testament to the atmosphere they have created.

“We’re really quite excited to be taking part in this program,” Williamson said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to help create standards for parents to go by, to look at when choosing a suitable care center for their children.”

The IdahoSTARS project is creating a rating system for day cares similar to hotel ratings. A parent could look up a rating, and see where the facility they are considering rates among other local options. “This is a wonderful tool for parents to ensure the quality of care their children will be receiving,” added Williamson. “This will not only help parents, but should make every child care center strive to receive the highest rating.”

The Pocatello location currently enrolls children from the age of 6 weeks up through the completion of the fifth grade. Their enrollment age system matches the local school district, thus providing a smooth transition into the elementary education system. This method also allows the friendships and connections children make at the center to further develop as the children attend school together.

The ELC meticulously monitors the education of the children, so that each classroom is advancing at a healthy pace. “Outside of each classroom is a daily schedule, to keep parents and staff informed of the activities their children engage in,” added Williamson. “Additionally, the teachers must submit weekly lesson plans, which are reviewed to make sure they’re appropriate.” The lesson plans are carefully crafted to provide both balance and quality in the level of instruction, and to properly prepare the children for their educational progress.

“It really is a joy to work with these children,” said Colleen Hammers, one of the dedicated teachers on staff. “It’s just a joy to be able to help not only the children learn, but know that we’re also helping their parents finish their schooling as well.”

The Center strives to ensure that each child gets the attention necessary, and keeps their student-to-teacher ratios below the recommended maximum, as well as below both state and city codes. This allows the teachers to give every student the time and energy necessary for their early learning success.

The ELC is a vital and important part of the Idaho State University higher education system. It allows the bright minds of today the time and energy to succeed, as well as educating the leaders of tomorrow.

Baby U Club

The ELC isn’t the only support option available to ISU students who are parents. Recently, students founded the Baby U Club as an on-campus group to help students with children of all ages balance the demands between family and education.

“We hope to see the club alleviate difficulties and provide a better balance between school, work and family for these students,” said Heidi Harold, club advisor. “We feel it’s important because the vast majority of students are or will be parents.”

Baby U Club hosted a student parent fair April 22, which brought together many public organizations useful to student parents, such as WIC and Medicaid.

The organization recently solicted information and ideas from students via e-mail, allowing the club to assess student needs and what resources and services the club can provide to target and resolve those needs. The group is seeking to provide access to its resources online as well.

“We’re currently compiling a list of local daycares, which we hope to make searchable. We’re also creating a map of local areas safe for mothers to breastfeed, called lactation stations,” Harold said. “We’re very excited about the opportunities this club can provide for students.”

Jeff Phillips
for ISU Magazine