By Katie Letellier, Staff Writer
In 2009, USM closed it’s daycare for students, faculty and staff due to university-wide budget cuts. The daycare, the first in the state to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young People, had been open for 35 years.
USM’s childcare program was offered on both the Portland and Gorham campuses. Long before there was a community garden near the Sullivan Gym, there was a playground where the kids would play.
At the time of its closing, the daycare had nearly 90 children enrolled from infants to five-year-olds.
Ten years later and the need for the daycare is greater than ever.
As the spring 2019 semester rolled in just a few weeks ago, the federal government was under shutdown, leaving nearly 800,000 federal workers without pay, some still had to work, but were doing so without being paid until the end of the shutdown.
For those of us who were not impacted by the shutdown we can only imagine the difficulty of providing your child with safe, competent care when your income is little to nothing.
It was easy to empathize with those affected by the shutdown, but what may go unnoticed is that finding adequate and affordable daycare for your children is a struggle many USM students face on a daily basis.
Many USM students are remarkably busy, as they work, raise children and of course, attend college. Being a traditional student and probably too naive for my own good, I’ve found myself shocked by the stories of my non-traditional peers. One story that stood out in particular was that of a woman who was the sole provider for her family, on top of being a student, because it would cost almost just as much to send her four kids to daycare as it would for her husband to work.
I was struck by two things: how hard she had to work and how wrong it is that her family had to make such a choice. Since hearing her story, I have thought that USM, with its large population of non-traditional students, ought to have a daycare.
Today, few people on campus can share their experience of using the USM daycare service, but in 1982 Lynda Doyle wrote about how helpful it was to her in a letter to the editor in the Free Press.
“I have gone through a lot of emotional stress. Until this year, I experienced a sense of quiet guilt about leaving my three year old daughter with a babysitter or a day care center. This year is the first time in three years that I’ve had a relatively stress-free semester… My daughter is learning how to write her name and more importantly, to interact with other children. To put her in any other daycare center would be a step backward for her,” she said. With the closing of the daycare in 2009, it was said that the university would be saving $400,000 annually, but that is debatable because it is unclear how many students had to leave school or were deterred from attending USM as a result of the closure.
USM’s competitors, Southern Maine Community College and University of Maine Orono both have on-campus childcare services for their students, faculty and staff.
But bringing back the daycare wouldn’t only reap benefits for those with children, but also those wishing to work with children. As all institutions of higher learning should do, this would provide those in the early childhood studies program a chance to gain hands-on experience at the same place they take classes.
A daycare may be costly to the university, but it seems like the benefits would outweigh the costs. A lot has changed since 2009, especially for USM, so the university should further support its hardworking students and bring back its child care center.