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GRCC provides low-cost child care to student parents at nationally accredited early childhood learning lab

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The front entrance to the Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory located at 210 Lyon Street NE on GRCC's downtown campus. (Najd Ayari/The Collegiate)

By Nelson Hubbell

For Grand Rapids Community College students, a work-life balance can be challenging; now consider what that may be like while raising children.

To help student-parents meet their childcare needs, GRCC offers a low-cost day care option for parents who are enrolled and meet other financial need criteria. For less than $250 per semester, students can access child care provided by GRCC’s Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory (ECLL) which is located at 210 Lyon St NE, Grand Rapids, MI. The ECLL is a childcare service that students and the local Grand Rapids community have access to.

Joseph Poulos, 30, is a student at GRCC and an editor at The Collegiate Live, who lives in Grand Rapids and has a 20 month old son attending preschool at the ECLL. These were his thoughts regarding how he balances his work, school, and life: “The ECLL is literally essential in allowing me to work full time as a manager at FedEx and still have time to do my school work. In addition, it makes it possible for my wife to work full time for Head Start for Kent County. I would still be able to attend work and school without them, but it would be significantly more expensive.”

The ECLL has about 60-65 children enrolled in the program and more families on the waiting list. The school previously had over 100 kids enrolled but were forced to pare down their enrollment list due to the pandemic.

The Child Development program at GRCC uses this learning laboratory for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world of caretaking children. At the same time, children ages 6 weeks to 4 years old are able to attend a top notch preschool education and daycare service.

“I have yet to see something that needs improvement… I took the time to meet my teachers and go to orientation, and am in touch with them often,” Poulos said. “In my mind, they are just as good or better than any normal preschool. They benefit from increased funding, a new spacious building, and dedicated staff, which you, unfortunately, cannot say for other smaller preschools.”

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a nonprofit that works to “promote high-quality education in children by connecting practice, policy, and research.” Last March, the ECLL was recognized by the NAEYC as one of the top preschools and childcare centers in the country.

The NAEYC re-accredited the ECLL, a designation that less than 10 percent of childcare centers, preschools, and kindergartens, in the nation achieve.

It can be hard for parents and families of lower or middle-class income levels to balance school, work, and childcare. Having a daycare on campus is ultra-convenient and a massive time and money-saver for students.

Both students and non-students in the Grand Rapids community can use the ECLL.

Maureen Milarch is the Assistant Director of the ECLL and an instructor at the preschool. Milarch says, “GRCC Students who are full-time can access in many cases Perkins Grants.”

For non-students, the cost begins with a $60 registration fee. The regular rates for each age group are as follows: $254 per week for infants, $248 per week for toddlers, and $207 per week for preschoolers (or $56 a day, with a two day minimum).

“The ECLL is a great place. The greatest benefit is the cost to students, which is a small fraction of what you would pay for a normal daycare,” said Poulos.

For those who may struggle to pay for the ECLL programming, there are grants available through the occupational support offices. GRCC offers The Child Care Award. This award can lower your fee per semester to $210 for a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule or $140 for Tuesday and Thursday schedule. To be eligible for child care, students must be enrolled in a one or two-year occupational curriculum and provide proof of economic need or receive a Pell Grant. For more information about the Child Care Award click here.

GRCC partners with a couple of different programs in West Michigan to help fund the preschool education of children at the ECLL.

The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) uses donations and federal funding through the Early Head Start grant. The Kent Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) uses state funding to provide free preschool education to 4-year-olds in Kent County. You can apply to the Kent GSRP program here.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stopped by the childcare center in June of 2021 to give a speech, where she recognized the ECLL’s accomplishments and how well it has served the community. She also highlighted other childcare services and the importance of growing and building centers like the ECLL.

“It’s unique for West Michigan,” Milarch said. “We are the only lab preschool in West Michigan. Which means that we have our child development students, and in many cases, nursing students and med-techs use our building and our children for their assignments (under the supervision of a lab teacher). We also have observation rooms where people from the community, parents, and students can observe what goes on in our classroom.”

Visit the ECLL website here for a center overview and here for further details. You can reach out to Jeanne Lacy at jlacy@grcc.edu for information on enrolling your child. If you have any questions regarding applying for grants and funding for your child’s preschool education you can reach out to the occupational support services at GRCC via phone: (616) 234-4155 or email: occupationalsupport@grcc.edu.