How’s this for a busy day: Mohaimina Haque drops her 3-year-old daughter off at the Hoya Kids child care center at Georgetown University before 8 a.m., heads to her full-time job at the Department of Justice, picks her daughter up again after 5:30 p.m. (if her husband can’t), and rushes back to Georgetown for an evening class. If she gets home in time, she reads her daughter a bedtime story.
Feeling like an underachiever yet?
Haque, 24, of McLean, Va., is just one of many moms and dads who balance the high demands of parenting and grad school. “Everyone asks me how it’s possible, but with planning and a good division of labor, it is,” says Haque, who is earning a master’s degree in social and public policy from Georgetown.
Helping her along the way are her husband, her family and now the staff at Hoya Kids, the child care center where her daughter, Imaani Arete Haque, enrolled this fall.
“Hoya is a big resource,” Haque says. “It’s a very nurturing environment.”
Hoya Kids is one of several child care centers at D.C.-area grad schools that cater to the children of university students, faculty and staff. American University began its Child Development Center in 1978 with student-parents in mind. The University of Maryland’s version is called the Center for Young Children. George Washington University has the Bright Horizons Children’s Center.
These centers blend day care and education: Most of the staff are accredited teachers, and the centers allow university researchers to conduct observations or studies on the kids (with informed consent, of course). For instance, University of Maryland researchers have observed kids’ interactions at the Center for Young Children to help them understand conflict resolution, moral judgment, social exclusion, relationships with adults and peers and language development in children.
The universities say they offer these centers to meet the needs of their staff and students who have families, to encourage adult students with kids to pursue further education, and to provide an educational experience to students who are interested in early childhood education and parenting.
Parents say they are drawn to the innovative educational curriculums, the lower tuitions ($10,000- $15,000 per year versus $15,000-$20,000 a year for the average full-time child care center in D.C.) and the practicality of having their kids on campus.
“I can eat lunch with my son if I want to,” says Alice Register, 33, who started her MFA program in digital media at American University this fall and enrolled her 2-year-old son in AU’s Child Development Center. “The fact that he’s nearby is a huge thing,” she says.
On a typical busy day, Register is up at 6:30 a.m. to prep for the day and drop off her son. She spends hours studying, doing homework or working on group projects, sits in classes from 2:30 to 9:30 p.m., and doesn’t get to bed until nearly midnight.
Without the center, Register says, she wouldn’t have been able to start school this semester. “Definitely the Child Development Center has made it possible for me.”
Unfortunately, openings are few and far between at these facilities. So much so that Georgetown University doctoral student Joseph Murray, 32, who was determined to enroll his child at Hoya Kids, submitted an application the week his son was born.
“He was delivered at Georgetown [Hospital],” Murray says. “On the third day, I walked over and gave them the form.”
At Hoya Kids, about 100 families vie for the 12 to 18 spots that open each year, and parents spend an average of 18 months on the waiting list, says director Jane Banister.
Georgetown can accommodate 58 kids a year, while American takes 30 and the University of Maryland’s center currently has 110.
Age ranges vary, but most centers accept kids between 2½ and 5 or 6 years old. (Once kids reach 3 or 4, parents also can apply for a spot in D.C.’s public preschool or pre-kindergarten programs.)
It’s common for parents to put their newborns on the waitlist at AU’s center, too, so they get off the waitlist by the time their child is old enough to attend.
“With all that demand, we have to look into expanding,” Charfi says, though she adds that American has no immediate plans to do so.
Some D.C.-area universities offer maternity and even paternity leave for student-parents after the baby is born.
Georgetown Ph.D. graduate Meredith Clifford, 30, took her maternity leave in the time between defending her dissertation and turning in her thesis.
At Georgetown, grad students can take up to six weeks of parental leave after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. Professors are told to be flexible about attendance and assignment deadlines during this period, and if necessary the student can take an “incomplete” in the course and make it up the following semester.
The University of Maryland also allows up to six weeks of leave after birth or adoption, to help students balance the challenges of being new parents with the demands of grad school.
Her Ph.D. mentor, a professor and mother of two, helped her take advantage of the benefits and pushed her to complete as much coursework as she could before the baby arrived, Clifford says.
“She was just incredibly supportive, and really pushed me to do a great job on the thesis,” Clifford says of her mentor, “and to ‘keep that baby in there’ ” for as long as possible.
University Child Care: By the Numbers
University child care centers are generally cheaper than traditional day care, though spots are hard to come by. Here are how three popular programs stack up in terms of scope, capacity and cost.
Hoya Kids at Georgetown University
Ages: 18 months to 5 years Capacity: 58
Tuition: $1,250 per month (toddlers), $1,175 per month (2-3 years) or $1,100
per month (preschoolers). Families with combined income below $150,000 are eligible for scholarships. Open to: Georgetown University students, faculty and staff.
The Child Development Center at American University
Ages: 2½ to 6 years Capacity: 30
Tuition: $1,100 per month for AU students, $1,200 per month for AU-affiliated families, $1,300 per month for community members. Open to: American University students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as affiliates of nearby Wesley Theological Seminary. If space allows, also open to affiliates of on-campus organizations, and to the surrounding community.
Center for Young Children at the University of Maryland
Ages: 3 to 5 years Capacity: 110
Tuition: $10,000 a year for full-time preschool/kindergarten, $7,000 a year for part-time preschool. A limited number of need-based partial scholarships are available. Open to: University of Maryland faculty, staff and students. If space allows, open to the community. E.B.