Clinton Early Learning Center belongs on campus

By Kathleen Herlihy ’14, Kara Shannon ’14

We are the two student staff members of the Clinton Early Learning Center (CELC), and we would like to share our perspectives on the issue of moving the CELC off-campus. Our unique relationships with the Center as both Hamilton students and CELC employees affords us firsthand knowledge on why this issue is worthy of attention, and why it is so essential to all parties involved that the Center remains on campus. Hamilton’s mission statement includes providing students with the “knowledge, skills and confidence to make their voices heard,” which working at the Center has helped us to do. This is what we hope to express in this piece.

To provide some context for our strong interest in keeping the CELC on campus, we would like to explain how working at the Center has enhanced our Hamilton experience. Working at the Center has helped us to grow as people and has revealed a world to us that our academic experiences could not. It has inspired a mutual passion for the field of early-childhood education allowed us to utilize our Spanish skills, observe hands-on material from psychology classes, increase understanding of non-profit management and gain an ideal Career Related Experience (CRE).

Our time here has given us the confidence to pursue additional CREs relevant to childcare and special needs; it has even inspired our post-graduate plans. We feel strongly that we would not have pursued a position at the Center if it were off-campus because of the difficulty of accessibility. Therefore, we would not have afforded such a wonderful opportunity to grow academically and personally.

Students who choose to volunteer or work at the CELC reap a number of Center-specific benefits.  Students enrolled in psychology courses get the chance to actively experience the material they are studying as volunteers.  Other students who are employed there as literacy aides or teachers like ourselves obtain relevant CREs and on-campus employment.

However, for these benefits to be realized, particularly for employees, the Center must remain on campus.  Even with transportation provided, leaving campus every weekday for work would be stressful and time-consuming. Employees without cars would be tied to a transportation timetable, and last-minute staffing substitutions would be impossible.

Working and volunteering on campus with the children of faculty members has led to the development of unique relationships with our professors that are impossible in any other campus setting. We interact with the faculty in a very informal environment. We discuss their families, not coursework, and hold conversations with them as peers with mutual interest in the welfare of their children.  The interactions take place in an entirely different register than we use in the classroom, and this familiarity and friendship is mutually beneficial for both students and faculty.   

The benefits of an on-campus Center are not just limited to students.  The CELC’s primary role is to service the families of the Hamilton community as a high quality, learning-oriented childcare facility.  Staff members frequently tell us how much they appreciate the convenience and proximity of the Center’s on campus location.  With the Center on-campus, faculty and staff know that their children are in a safe and nearby environment, and they can get to them quickly in case of an emergency.  Moreover, an on-campus childcare center is a serious selling point for any prospective faculty or staff member with a family.

Additionally, taking the Center off Hamilton’s campus harms Hamilton’s global and self-image. Hamilton prides itself on the variety of its attributes.  We have centers dedicated to everything from the rights of minority groups to improving students’ writeen and oral cmmunication skills. By relocating the CELC, we are reducing the diversity of assets Hamilton has to offer.

Hamilton is located in a relatively isolated area, and we are ever-conscious of our global image as a hub of culture and diversity. Removing the CELC is taking a step backwards in the journey to make Hamilton the most competitive school it can be.  Eight of the 11 NESCAC schools currently have on-campus childcare facilities. How can we be globally competitive if we are not even competitive within the NESCAC?

Hamilton is the ideal community for the children at the CELC. The campus provides a secure environment for students to learn and play, and the children are growing up in a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere. Numerous safe walking paths such as those in the Glen and across campus make outdoor exploration and hands-on scientific exploration possible.  On-campus events such as last spring’s Japanese drumming performance, a cappella concerts and demonstrations from a variety of visiting performance groups expose the children to special cultural activities. By moving the Center off-campus, we trade away a wealth of qualities unique to this campus location for nothing more than expedience in the search for more dorm rooms. 

So, what now? As mentioned in The Spectator’s article last Thursday, the Center is likely to relocate this summer. We urge you to join us in challenging this plan; visit the “Keep the Clinton Early Learning Center on Hamilton College’s Campus” Facebook page; sign the change.org petition featured on the Facebook page; raise awareness on the issue by discussing it with friends and professors; contact our administrators; voice your opinions on the matter via social media and campus publications. And of course, continue to enjoy the presence of the children on campus.


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