While UT students across campus spend their days studying, there are more than 400 children finger painting, solving puzzles, playing catch and eating snacks at the UT Child
The center consists of two schools where students, faculty and staff can enroll their children between the ages of six weeks and five years for year-round childcare.
“We divide the children up by their age and we provide developmentally appropriate activities to help them grow intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally,” director Hara Cootes said. “We’ve got the leaping frogs class, the dolphins class and other names like that so they can build a community within their classroom.”
Maria Perez, a childcare specialist at the center, said she teaches two- and three-year-olds in her “osito class”, or “little bear class.”
“In this age group, you can see their cognitive skills start kicking in and they start having a dialect with their peers and learning about sharing and having respect for each other,” Perez said. “As the months go by, you can see how they start growing and developing into the little people that they are.”
Perez said she focuses on creating an environment in the classroom where parents will feel comfortable dropping their children off for the day.
“It’s really exciting to work here with such diverse families, and I love that we’re able to help both the staff and faculty so that they have childcare and are able to go to work and be at peace,” Perez said.
According to Cootes, who has worked at the center since it first opened in 1992, the close relationship between the University and the center contributes to the quality of the education the children have access to.
“We had a parent who made instant ice cream with nitrogen— it was a chemistry professor,” Cootes said. “We have all of these talents that we exploit, [and] I think that that’s really unusual and brings a richness to our program that other programs don’t have access to.”
Admission to the center is competitive — Cootes said the current waiting list for admission to the center has more than 700 applicants.
“Having a waiting list means that there are some families who can’t use us, and that’s very frustrating,” Cootes said. “I wish we could provide care to everyone who needs it.”
Vice Provost Neal Armstrong is the coordinating administrator of the UT Child Development Center Faculty Recruitment and Retention program, which is designed to offer spaces at the center to potential hires and to faculty members who are considering leaving UT.
“To faculty who have families and children and need daycare, it’s an attractive program,” Armstrong said. “If we can provide that kind of help for them, then I think the odds of getting faculty to say ‘yes’ to a position here or to stay here are enhanced.”
Cootes said UT’s center is different from other universities’ programs.
“I really commend the University for having the foresight to start their own program to control the quality and to expand its availability,” Cootes said. “That’s really important, and not all of the universities see that as valuable.”