You might think that 18-year-old Judy Potter, with nine brothers and sisters, would have had enough of taking care of children.
But she says that, for at least the next five years, she is committed to a career of full-time child care -- as a trained nanny.
"You get to know the child," she said of being a nanny rather than day care worker or teacher. "And, you sort of have a part in their growing up, which makes me feel really good."
Potter, of Front Royal, Va., has enrolled in what Northern Virginia Community College officials say is the area's first nanny program, started four months ago. If all goes well, she will graduate in about a year.
The increasing interest in training programs for nannies has apparently been aided by the soaring numbers of working mothers, by the difficulties of importing foreign-born nannies and by fears of child molestation in public day care.
NOVA officials say they have been inundated with calls from parents from all over the country who are eager to hire the first crop of graduates from Potter's class of 12. "It has been fantastic," said Elizabeth Johns, the college's social science chairwoman.
More than 500 parents have inquired about the possibility of hiring nannies, and the college has a parent waiting list of 375. "We had to cut it off after that," said Johns.
What some programs have not had is enough students to keep them going. Georgetown University's Child Development Center had plans to start a 10-week nanny training program last year. They, too, were besieged with calls from parents looking for nannies -- but not from students wanting to sign up for the program, which they canceled.
The NOVA nanny program is open to high school graduates and persons with high school equivalency degrees. Students take 50 hours of courses, or about one year of class attendance, and they receive a certificate that can be used toward an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. Tuition for the program is roughly $800, and NOVA officials are eagerly looking for more applicants.
The NOVA nannies are taught child psychology, nutrition, human growth and development, cognitive skill development, health and safety, how to write employment contracts -- everything from storytelling to the Heimlich maneuver.
Training is part of what differentiates a nanny from an au pair girl, one who exchanges child care or household duties for room and board, say those involved in the nanny program.
The typical American nanny has taken a minimum of 200 classroom hours.
The American training is more theoretical than the English model, focusing heavily on child behavior and growth, but still includes the basics of teething, diapering and nutrition, said NOVA's Johns.
The question is: Why would college-bound students want to become nannies?
"What they're doing is being paid a living wage to do something they really enjoy doing, which is working with children," said Vickie VanSteenhouse, who is active with the American Council of Nanny Schools, based in Saginaw, Mich.
"They're a specific kind of individual," VanSteenhouse said. "If they worked in a day care center, they'd generally make minimum wage, and they'd have to pay for their own apartment. Here they're part of a family situation."
Work situations differ, but the typical nanny can expect a salary range of $150 to $350 weekly, depending on job location, benefits, and whether the position is live-in, according to the American Council of Nanny Schools.
Eventually, NOVA nanny student Brendy Gentry wants to teach early childhood education. But she is working for a family while she is in school, and she figures that the nanny program is a good way to become an expert at the job. "People I know who are working with families -- I've been trying to get them into the program. They say, 'Oh, no, I already know that stuff.' But they might not," she said.
Gentry, 28, of the District has worked as a baby sitter since she was 10 years old, so she knows the basics of child care. But she says the program is teaching her a lot about child development, as well as the nitty-gritty of drawing up business contracts with her employers and knowing what kind of salary to request. "There's always something you don't know," she said.
Most of the nanny students are young, and the majority are women. "But there are definitely male nannies out there," said VanSteenhouse. "We call them 'mannies.' " They are, however, much harder to place, she added.