Grand Valley State University is partnering with the David D. Hunting YMCA in downtown Grand Rapids to eventually provide evening childcare for students, faculty and staff.
Tonya Parker has been a GVSU professor of athletic training for nearly twenty years. Parker said that the idea to offer childcare comes after graduate exit surveys indicated that the largest contributors to students discontinuing their education or delaying expected graduation were “familial issues.”
Parker first approached the idea of evening childcare when exploring concepts for the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.
Parker worked in a smaller group committed to providing the best, most effective ways to support graduate students in their success. Connecting with other committees such as Veterans Affairs, the graduate school office and individuals in recruitment and marketing, she eventually investigated already existing childcare within the GVSU community and how that could be changed.
“My focus was on retention and recruitment of graduate learners to the university and all of the various things that go with them,” Parker said. “Now, this would be a real win on both retention as well as recruitment to this nighttime childcare option.”
Having a childcare option that satisfies student and faculty needs during the day and now in the evenings is creating a learning space that is more accessible and inclusive to parents pursuing higher education at GVSU. The idea is that students and staff who utilize this new resource can spend less time coordinating childcare so that they can focus on furthering their education.
Not only is this a new project crafted for members of the GVSU community, but it also stands to potentially make the university a leader in the state and in the region in terms of advocating and providing for parents in campus-associated childcare.
Parker said that while other large universities in Michigan have childcare programs, there are very few that offer nighttime availability. The success of the program would make GVSU a standout in terms of support for all types of students.
“I’m not a parent, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand being a parent comes with an amazing set of responsibilities,” Parker said. “If there are ways that the university can just make it a little bit easier, then I absolutely think that’s something that I should spend my time on and that the people I worked with across the university support.”
Daphnea Sutherland, Director of GVSU’s Children’s Enrichment Center on the Allendale campus, explains that offering childcare from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. gives students an opportunity to take advantage of their educational opportunities while having confidence that their children are in a secure and nurturing area that they can count on throughout the semester.
“The motivation is to provide a supportive resource for faculty, students who have children and teach or attend downtown night classes,” Sutherland said. “Having a trusted childcare resource will allow faculty and students to attend their courses while knowing that their child is safe and being taken care of.”
With games, learning activities and snacks, the environment is designed to be welcoming and supportive for children ranging from six weeks to five years old.
Following a year of development, the project is beginning to get its footing. Sutherland said parents interested in becoming involved or enrolling in the program can reach out to YMCA or the Children’s Enrichment Center directly.
“GVSU parents can connect directly with the David D. Hunting YMCA directly or can visit our Children’s Enrichment Center page if they are interested,” Sutherland said.
The opportunity for members of the GVSU community to utilize this resource is exclusive to the David D. Hunting YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, located on 475 Lake Michigan Drive.
Should the program leave the table and come into the real world its survival will be dependent on enrollment.
However, supporters of the program at GVSU are hopeful regarding the success of evening childcare and encouraged by the aspect of increasing accessibility to higher education for students who have children at GVSU.