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Frank Porter Graham Child Care Center Is Closing After 47 Years

By Anne Brenner Posted February 23, 2013 at 3:13 pm
CHAPEL HILL-In the 1970s, a landmark child development study conducted by UNC researchers called for the start of a child care center. 47 years later, that center still exists- but it’s in its final year.

About 2 miles from the UNC campus where undergraduates attend classes daily, teachers are taking care of much younger students.

Those students range in age from 6 weeks to 5 years, and 25-30% have identified disabilities. They’re learning things like language and social skills at the Frank Porter Graham Child Care Center.

The center is located at UNC’s Child Development Institute, but soon, the hallways and rooms that are filled with toys and colorful art projects will be converted to office space. At the end of this school year, the 47-year-old center will close.

“It will be depressing in a way that the kids won’t be running around,” says speech pathology graduate student Christin Hopp. She’s one of many UNC students who have been able to intern there. “I’ve learned a lot about therapy in classes…and coming to FPG, I’ve been able to apply those in the classroom.”

The closing was announced in 2011, giving families and staff 2 years to prepare.

For Institute Director Sam Odom, the decision to close was a challenging but necessary.

“It was a hugely difficult decision to come to,” he says.

When Odom became director in 2006, the center cost the institute around 400 thousand dollars a year. He worked to reduce that number to 250 to 300 thousand dollars per year, but still, the cost was too high.

“The university and FPG were investing a substantial amount of money…excess of revenue that it brings in from parent tuition fees and child care subsidies and with the cuts that have come through the university from the legislature, we could no longer maintain that,” he says.

Both Odom and Child Care Center director Kate Gallagher said they were unwilling to sacrifice quality of care in order to cut down costs. They pride themselves on the student to teacher ratios, the salaries of the staff, and the focused care of disabled students.

“I think the challenge we had is that the level of quality we provide is really expensive,” says Gallagher.

The center also serves as a resource for UNC students and faculty who are investigating child development.

“We really supporting the UNC community by being a place to train and provide experience with working with high quality child care and education, and we provide a space for researchers to learn new things that try new things out.”

As a result of the closing, 28 university workers will be laid off and 78 children will have to find new sources of care.

Madeleine Salazar is one of those people. She’s a teacher’s assistant and a parent- her daughter, J.D., attends the center.

“As a parent, it’s really sad because I don’t want JD to be separated from her teachers, who she’s grown up with and is attached to,” she says.

Salazar stays positive, though, about what the future may bring for herself and the other teachers who will be looking for work

“I can’t imagine any child care center that would not appreciate everything and all the experience we come with,” she says. “I would hope that whatever center I go to would be just the same.”

JD and most of the other children remain unaware they’re in their last few months as students at the Frank Porter Graham Child Care Center.

The staff, though, is very aware. As the summer closing date approaches, they’re trying to keep a positive attitude.

“The staff is working hard not to let this get them down,” says Gallagher. “We’re working hard on professional development. Nonetheless, some days it’s pretty hard. A lot of teachers came here expecting to spend their career at this place…so they’re pretty sad.”

Most importantly, though, they’re focused on maintaining the standard they’ve set for themselves over the past 47 years.

“We are committed until July 31 to providing the highest quality early child care and education for kids and families that we can give out,” says Gallagher.

After that, the families will have to look elsewhere.
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