SJR Column: Cox Children’s Center, July 2017
Every week in the United States, an estimated 15 million children younger than age five spend significant time in childcare while their parents work or attend school. Finding high-quality and affordable childcare is an ongoing challenge for working parents. At the same time, childcare often presents a barrier to attending college for the approximately one in four college students who have dependent children.
Since 1970, when the first classes were held at the new campus, the University of Illinois at Springfield has offered full-time on-campus child care at the Cox Children’s Center – a resource much valued by UIS students, faculty, staff, alumni and community clients who utilize the Center.
According to Stacey Gilmore, Director of the Center since 2003, the primary mission of Cox Children’s Center is “to provide high quality early education and care in a safe, secure nurturing environment.” The Center also serves as a laboratory and practicum site for UIS students with professional aspirations for careers in early childhood education.
Enrollment at Cox each year is typically 50-55 children starting as young as six weeks old. A program for school-aged children increases enrollment to about 70 children during the summer months.
On any given day, the Cox Center, located in a building near the middle of campus, is a lively and engaging environment! “My staff is skilled and their credentials are top-notch,” remarks Director Gilmore.
With 14 dedicated fulltime staff and another 14 part-timers, staff turnover is limited and the child-to-teacher ratio is lower than most daycare centers, with a 1:4 ratio for infants and toddlers and 1:6 for preschoolers.
The Center is proud to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), considered the mark of high quality for early childhood programs. It is the only daycare within 50 miles of Springfield that is accredited for infant care. The Center has also received the Gold Circle Quality Designation, the highest rating possible, from ExcelRate Illinois, the state’s new quality rating and improvement system for early learning providers.
You might say graduate student Dan Bitner is doubly appreciative of the UIS Cox Children’s Center – his twins are 2½ years old and have been enrolled at the Center since they were 8 months old. “Every teacher the twins have had at Cox has been caring and nurturing,” he says.
“The thing I like best is how much they have developed from a learning perspective; Cox is really a school where the children are constantly learning and developing skills that will prepare them for kindergarten.”
Riaz Tejani is a professor in Legal Studies at UIS whose children, 4 and 6 years old, have been enrolled at Cox for the past two years since the family’s arrival in Springfield. “We enrolled our children at Cox partly on the advice of faculty colleagues who extolled the Center’s caring Director and teachers as well as the exclusive accreditation ratings,” he says.
“The campus location has been a huge asset, providing our children access to many UIS resources like children’s programming at the Sangamon Auditorium performing arts center, the campus/community garden, and even the colonnade fountain – which doubles as a splash pad during summer months.”
Alexandria Cosner, Coordinator of UIS Campus Recreation, heard wonderful things about the Cox Center from other families when she was expecting her daughter – who is now six months old. “The teachers really work hard with the children and their families to make learning fun in a welcoming environment,” says Alex.
“We also really like the Brightwheel app that enables Center staff to provide us with updates on our daughter via cell phone throughout the day. The constant communication is much appreciated and puts our minds at ease during the work day.”
Though serving UIS students, faculty and staff is the Center’s first priority, community clients are also served on a space-available basis. UIS alum Nichole Dorsey, whose son is 2½, is one of those community clients. “I am so grateful I can go to work with ease knowing my son is experiencing great care,” says Nichole, who worked at the Center for two years when she was an undergraduate.
“I honestly felt like I had won the lottery when a spot became available at Cox for him.”
According to a report published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in January, 2017, the number of college students who are also parents is growing. At the same time, the availability of convenient, high-quality childcare continues to be a critical factor for working parents and one that contributes to employee retention and morale. There’s no doubt about it – the Cox Children’s Center is a valuable asset for the campus and the Springfield community.
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield