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   from the issue of February 8, 2007

  Ruth Staples Laboratory offers care to area families, experience to UNL students

Campus Child Care


The phones are ringing at the Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory.

SLIPPERY FISH - UNL students (from left) Amber Blevins and Jenna Delimont, Ruth Staples master teacher Julie Jones-Branch and Ruth Staples...
 SLIPPERY FISH - UNL students (from left) Amber Blevins and Jenna Delimont, Ruth Staples master teacher Julie Jones-Branch and Ruth Staples students dance to the song "Slippery Fish" during a Feb. 1 activity. The Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory provides a place for UNL students to learn about early childhood development and an on-campus source of childcare for faculty, staff, students and area families. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

One day after the Jan. 31 announcement that UNL will close the University Child Care facility after a lease termination by the Lincoln YWCA (see story on Page 8), parents started inquiring about the other campus child care program.

"We did have a number of parents call wondering if we had openings," said Michelle Rupiper, director of the Ruth Staples Laboratory. "It was disappointing to tell them that we are operating at capacity and don't foresee any openings until the fall. But, we added their names to our waiting list.

"Hopefully we will be able to accommodate some of them."

The child development lab at UNL started in 1926 as one of the first such programs at a university west of the Mississippi River. The primary mission of the program - from the start to today - is to prepare university students for careers working with children.

"Like everything else at the university, the program has evolved over the years," said Rupiper. "Early on, the program was about preparing individuals how to be good parents. Today it's all about teacher preparation."

The Ruth Staples Lab is a part of the College of Education and Human Sciences. Students earn credit by working in the lab, learning about the typical development of children ages 2 to 5, helping develop and test early curricula for early childhood development and teaching. Students in related majors also earn experience in the lab. And, with the permission of parents who send their children to Ruth Staples, researchers and students use the facility to conduct early childhood development research projects.

The Ruth Staples program boasts teachers with a minimum of a master's degree in each of its two classrooms. They provide one adult for three to five children. And, the program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children - a designation earned by only 9 percent of child care programs nationwide.

EYE ON DISCOVERY - Jacob Baden, an inclusive early childhood education major, and a Ruth Staples student examine an evergreen outside...
EYE ON DISCOVERY - Jacob Baden, an inclusive early childhood education major, and a Ruth Staples student examine an evergreen outside the windows in the link between Ruth Leverton Hall and the Home Economics building. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.


"I know childhood development and I have been astonished by the quality of instruction at Ruth Staples," said Cynthia Cress, an associate professor in Special Education and Communication Disorders. "My four year old twins started there this fall and they come home every day glowing about their experiences."

The facility also works to forge a sense of community with the parents, holding regular family events, hosting an annual potluck dinner and publishing a regular newsletter.

"The community-building activities hosted by the lab are things that we look forward to as opportunities to meet other parents and their children," said Douglas Seefeldt, an assistant professor of history, who sends his daughter to Ruth Staples. "Frankly, the Ruth Staples Lab is a significant factor in my own sense of belonging to the broader UNL community and helps to anchor our family here."

Rupiper's primary problem is the popularity of the program.

To meet the demands of expanded enrollment in the college, including the addition of an inclusive early childhood education major, a half-day class was added. That doubled the number of children Ruth Staples serves to 40 - 20 attending in the full-day class, the other 20 joining the half-day addition.

Also, Rupiper said the full-day program was extended through June to give more university students the opportunity to earn credit in the lab.

While the facility could expand based on the demand of students in the program and the waiting list of families, it has simply run out of room.

"The potential is here to expand, if we had the physical space and the finances to do so," Rupiper said.

If an expansion was possible, Ruth Staples would not be an ideal replacement for University Child Care.

The Ruth Staples program is closed during university holidays, finals week, semester break and spring break. The half-day program operates only during the school year, and the full-day program shuts down at the end of June and reopens in late August.

"We wish this wonderful care could be extended year-round to help us and other families who must find alternate day care when the facility shuts down for student breaks," said Seefeldt. "Such an extended schedule would mean so much to our children, and most likely offer additional learning opportunities for the students who work with our children."

Also, Ruth Staples does not accept children under the age of 2 - a choice made with both the college and children in mind.

"All of our faculty would love to serve infants and toddlers, but it's not good for children in that age group to have 20 different adults in their lives," said Rupiper. "And, because our mission is teacher training, it does not make sense to have an infant room at this time."

Rupiper is helping the drive for a new university child care program. She served on the chancellor's child care task force, providing a background in early childhood education.

"Everyone on the committee was disappointed when it was announced a new child care facility was not financially feasible at this time," said Rupiper. "But, there is a definite need for quality child care at the university. This is not an issue that is just going to go away."

However, Rupiper said it is important that the university not act too hastily to cover the gap caused by the loss of the University Child Care program.

"As a taxpayer and an employee at UNL, I want this to be a process that is thoughtful, one that we really think through before we act," said Rupiper. "We need to make sure we ask all the right questions and get the kind of facility this university deserves."



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