Campus day care eases students' load

Deanna Harmon is taking 12 hours of college courses, tending to her three children and planning for the birth of another.

Finding a safe, affordable and convenient child care center right down the hall from her classes was "a lifesaver," said Harmon, 30.

The married mom, who most recently worked as a waitress, was "tired of dead-end jobs and tired just making ends meet" when she returned to classes this year at the Clark County-Winchester Campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Harmon's youngest child, J.C., 2, has been at the Bluegrass Children's Academy since it opened early this year on campus. (Family helps care for her two school-age kids.)

People in the community, including an anonymous donor of $250,000, pushed for the center, said Sheila Simpson, interim director of the campus. From the Kiwanis Club to individual donations, some $31,000 and goods and services were given to get the center ready to open.

(The Community Action Council has operated a similar day care at the Lexington campus for several years.)

Academy director Becky Biddle said she went through a multilayered, months-long interview process to get her job. The center is a private business; she took out a personal loan to help with startup costs, but she has a contractual relationship with the college and benefits from donations of money and supplies.

"We will always be fund-raising," she said.

The center, which is open to students and members of the community, takes children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Seven children of students are using the service, which operates on a sliding fee scale and includes the rare choice of paying for a single day at a time.

There is an open-door policy and a video monitoring system that allows parents to stop by and see, without disrupting the classrooms, how their children are doing.

Simpson said she doesn't have statistics on how many students are parents, but the average age of students at BCTC campuses is 27. But, she said, she knows from talking with students that juggling child care can often be a barrier to learning. Other colleges are calling to learn about what is happening at the Winchester campus, Biddle said.

Plus, she said, she feels like she's really helping young women to change and improve their lives. "I just see what a difference I am making," she said.

For Harmon, who is studying to be a nurse, having her son near her while she is studying makes life a lot smoother.

"I can just walk into the office and see how he is doing," she said. "If he gets hurt or sick all she (Biddle) has to do is come down the hallway and get me."

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