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Published in Print: October 1, 1999, as Kids At Work

Kids At Work

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Melanie Reed was planning to take a year off from work to spend more time with her two children. Then her employer decided to open an on-site child-care center in the hope of keeping pros like her on the job. Reed scrapped her sabbatical. Now, instead of taking 4-year-old Luke and 2-year-old Haley to a sitter every day, Reed brings them to work with her.

Surprisingly, Reed doesn't work for a Fortune 500 company with a lot of money to spend on fringe benefits: She teaches 1st grade in the 2,000-student Buford, Georgia, school system northeast of Atlanta.

Her district spent roughly $42,000 to install a child-care facility at Buford Elementary School--offering the school system's 250 employees a perk that is still hard to find even in the corporate world. The center opened this fall.

Superintendent Tom Wilson says officials got the idea for the center after teachers sought leaves of absence to stay home with their young children. They figured teachers and other employees with young children would stay on the job if their infants and toddlers were cared for close by.

Wilson worked with two child-care consultants to design the center. Currently, it serves about 15 children, ages 6 weeks to 4 years. It operates year-round and is open to city employees as well as the district workers.

On-site child care is not only convenient for Buford teachers, it's also cheaper for many of them. Fees at the center range from $70 to $90 a week-as much as half the cost at other facilities. Rates are low because overhead costs such as rent and utilities are much less than they are for a typical preschool.

Experts say similar programs at other schools are not common. Child-care centers on school grounds are more of ten designed to serve students who are parents, making it easier for them to continue their education. Some schools open their centers to the community and use them as lab oratories for students researching child development or pur suing careers in the child-care field.

A few school-based centers serve both teenage parents and school system employees, but these are not common, says Fern Marx, a senior research scientist at the Cen ter for Research on Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Celia Lose, an American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman, believes child-care centers could be an ideal way to attract and keep employees. "It's clear that a lot of teachers and school employees have young children," she says.

The Carmel Clay, Indiana, school system, a growing, 11,500-student suburban district north of Indianapolis, opened two on-site child-care facilities this year for its staff. These centers- one in a modular building at a junior high school, the other in an elementary school annex-will accommodate 48 preschoolers and toddlers this year. Officials plan to add multiple centers and eventually serve as many as 200 children, says Roger McMichael of the district's business office.

When child-care centers operate on school property, officials do not need state child-care licenses. In Georgia and Indiana, however, district leaders say that they are still modeling their policies-on staff-child ratios and health and safety practices, for example-after those at first-rate private centers.

"Our goal," says Wilson, "is to make it as attractive and as high-quality as you can find anywhere."

--Linda Jacobson

Vol. 11, Issue 2, Page 10

Related Stories

:: Web Resources

  • Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the "National Studies on School-Age Child Care Programs," from the National Network for Child Care.
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