HOLYOKE — Kara Torres has tried to make the most of her first year at Holyoke Community College. Besides studying accounting, she has a work-study job in the Student Engagement office and an internship with the college’s Student Ambassador Mentorship Program.
As the mother of 8-year-old twins, though, things have not always gone smoothly.
“When their school is closed for teacher service days or their school vacations don’t line up with ours, it becomes difficult, because it’s either me or my wife who has to stay home,” said the 29-year-old Holyoke resident. “This semester, I had to stay home for a week during their spring break so my wife could go to work. I had to miss some classes.”
She hopes that the opening of HCC’s free child watch center will help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety of being both a parent and a college student.
“With my busy schedule, I can’t wait for them to be able to come in and be involved with this program,” she said on May 4, during the grand-opening celebration for the college’s Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center. “If anything happens now, I’ll be able to bring my kids with me to school. That makes me very excited.”
Torres was not the only one excited that day. The Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center was packed with HCC faculty, staff, students, as well as state and local officials getting their first look at the new facility on the first floor of the HCC Marieb Building. The celebration was held in advance of the center’s official opening on May 24.
“I always say this, but every time I come to HCC something good is happening,” said state Sen. John Velis of Westfield, who helped cut the grand opening ribbon. “You talk about food insecurity, housing, childcare — all important issues. Every time I come here you’re addressing one of them, so kudos to everybody in this room.”
Velis was key to securing a $100,000 allocation in the 2022 state budget to get the child watch program started.
“So many students have to make a choice between an education and child care,” he said. “That shouldn’t be a choice they have to make.”
HCC student parents will be able to start dropping their children off for child watch on May 24, the first day of summer classes. HCC is just the second community college in the state — and the only one in Western Massachusetts — to offer a child watch service for its students.
In 2017, HCC embarked on a strategic planning process that included a significant focus on basic needs that many HCC students struggle with: food insecurity, housing insecurity, transportation, and childcare.
“We’re excited to be able to make good on our promise to focus on the childcare needs for our students,” said HCC President Christina Royal. “And that’s what today is about, delivering on that promise to help our student-parents be successful while they continue to change their lives through the power of education.”
The Itsy Bitsy Child Watch takes its name from the classic nursery rhyme, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, a name also borrowed for the Itsy Bitsy Zoomcast, a recorded series focused on early education co-hosted by HCC faculty and staff, and the HCC Early Childhood Education department’s Itsy Bitsy Learning Lab.