On a hill across the street from Prince George's General Hospital, the county operates a day care center for the children of the hospital's employees. Hospital officials say the center is an inducement to attract new employees and a convenience for the ones already hired.
"It's positive factor in recruitment. We have had several applicants ask about the program," said Fred Cyran, an assistant hospital administrator.
The center, which opened in September, is restricted to children of the hospital's 1,900 employees and is the only day care facility operated by the county. It is designed to entice nurses and other medical professionals out of their homes and back into the working world. It can accommodate about 125 children in each of two shifts operated each day.
As a concession to the erratic time schedules health professionals work, the center is open seven days a week, 18 hours a day weekdays and 12 hours a day weekends. It accepts children aged 3 months through 5 years. For convenience, child care fees are collected through payroll deductions and the center provides formulas, hot meals, snacks and diapers.
Its fees are competitive with private day care centers in the area because the center's $300,000 building was built by the county and is provided to the center rent-free, says Marion Thomas, the center's director. Parents pay $7 per full day for the first child and $6 per full day for each additional child from the same family, and $3.50 per half-day for the first child and $3 per day for each additional child in the same family.
Thomas says, the most important thing about the center is its atmosphere, which is based on her philosohy that children should be happy when they learn. "We have to be sensitive to their physical and psychological needs," she said.
The 16 staff members, all of whom have at least bachelor's degrees in childhood education, keep individual records on the children and plan activities and play in order to help the childendevelop. Field trips to animal farms, pet shops and the hospital are scheduled to coincide with the children's lessons. Even the youngest have exercise programs to help them develop muscles and coordination. The staff meets in dividually with parents every two months to discuss a child's progress.
Thomas said there are few discipline problems because there is little regimentation. There are no playpens and children are not forced to nap or to eat together. Instead, each child is encouraged to proceed at his or her own pace.
As she spoke, a group of 5-year-olds was painting in one part of the large open classroom, the 3- and 4-year-olds were watching apuppet show in another section and on the far side of the room, 2-year-olds were moving around on tricycles.
"We give mouch responsibility to the child," Thomas said. Refferring to the 2-year-olds, she added, "Since they've come here, they have gotten to be more independent. Some of them weren't potty trained; they couldn't feed themselves; they couldn't dress themselves. Now most can."
Olivia Robinson, one of the staffers in charge of the children younger than 2 years old, said responsibility is encouraged even in the younger children. "The way society is today and both parents have work, I think it's very important that kids learn to do for themselves. I don't believe in pushing them but if I see they're willing to do, I encourage it," she said.
As she spoke, she skillfully braided the two-inch long hair of a little girl who was asleep on her lap. "There's not a lot of money in child care. In order to work in it, you've got to have a lot of love. You've gpt to wear clothes you can throw into the washing machine because they're going to puke on you and they're going to slobber all over you. But I love it. I wouldn't have another job," Robinson said.
According to parents, one of the nicest things about the center is the chance the children get to meet children of other races and nationalities. Among those registered at the center are children from India, Ireland, Spain, Korea and the Philippines.
Noreen O'Conor said her 4-year-old daughter Christine "has learned how to play with kids of all kinds. She used to be very shy and very reticent. Now the teacher says she has been the first one to raise her hand to answer a question."
Victoria Gordillo, who is from Argentina, say her 2-year-old son Carlos and 3-year-old daughter Virginia will "soon be able to speak English better than I can."
They love it here," she said. "I have to drag them away at night."