CINCINNATI – The prospect of earning a college degree for Jasmine Furr, a 22-year-old mother of two children younger than 4, might have been a daunting one without nearby daycare – very near.
The College Hill resident enrolled Zaire Mills, 3, and Zakiyah Mills, seven months, in the William Mallory Early Learning Center at Cincinnati State, where she started pursuing an associate's degree in sonography this spring to become a sonogram machine technician.
"I love how they're hands on with the children," she said. "My son is an outdoors person, and he loves it because he gets to go outside during the day."
She and other students have the peace of mind of having their children nearby, too.
"It's very convenient for me. If I have a break between classes, I can visit, and there's no hassle dropping them off and picking them up," Furr said.
She is one of the lucky non-traditional college students who have a need for quality preschool that is affordable and nearby. It's a combination that's hard to find.
About 96 percent of Cincinnati State's daycare and preschool families are Medicaid eligible, which means they are allotted a set amount of money by Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services to find the best daycare or preschool they can. If fees are higher than what the county offers and they can't afford the difference, their academic aspirations might be snuffed.
The county reimbursement does not cover the costs that Cincinnati State's daycare incurs, said Beverly McGlasson, director of the Early Learning Center. But rather than sacrifice quality, Cincinnati State chooses to subsidize the center.
The facility has a maximum four-star rating by Ohio, and is confident that it will earn a five-star rating when a new system goes into effect next year.
As a result, the center is able to serve about 50 children ages six months to five years, nearly all of whom have a parent working their way through college. The other 4 percent of clients are children of faculty and staff who appreciate the proximity and quality of the four-star program.
McGlasson sent her own kids through the program while she was earning a degree at the college. "It was a good feeling knowing know that they were upstairs," she said.
In fact, the whole staff consists of graduates of Cincinnati State's early learning program. Their longevity – with experience there between seven and 21 years – speaks to the strength of the center, according to Sandra Owen, chair of Cincinnati State's Early Childhood Education program.
Owen was there at the founding of Cincinnati State's child center in 1986, when the late State Sen. William Mallory led the effort to secure funding, recognizing the need for good daycare for adult learners.
Minimum teacher to child ratios are low, ranging from 1:4 for infants to 1:15 for day care for 5-10 year olds, but it's often far lower because of the students who are doing their lab work or otherwise helping as part of their program.
"Sometimes they're fighting over kids because there are so many adults in the room," Owen joked. "You're pretty much going to get the best of the best."
The roomy facility, located right on campus, divides the children in different rooms by age group. A rooftop playground overlooks the Mill Creek valley and is filled with plastic animals and geometric shapes to climb and play on, all atop a foam surface.
During a naptime visit, all was quiet and calm, with rows of cribs occupied by babies snoozing on their backs while classical music played quietly.
In the 5-10 year-old room, most kids slept while two aspiring ballerinas danced to the classical music that was piped in.
Betty Johnson, 21, of Westwood, is studying to be a preschool teacher, so she knows what to look for in a quality facility. Her sons Dominique Williams, 3, and Samuel Williams, 1, are gregarious customers of the facility. "I really like it. I was pretty impressed at how they really pay attention to the needs of the kids. They're well-informed of their feelings," she said.
With a whole campus at its disposal, the center takes full advantage, employing a convoy of strollers – called "byebye buggies" – to take the youngest children on walks through Cincinnati State's labyrinth of hallways and, in good weather, on outside strolls.
"They're allowed to explore," Johnson said.
Owen said there is a far greater need for quality daycare than government and institutions have met, but the veteran child care advocate has seen a lot of progress.
"We've come a long way in my career with more high-quality facilities and a lot of workers making more than minimum wage," she said.