By Scott Strasser, August 30 2016 —
On a grassy field nestled between Scurfield Hall and the Biological Sciences building lies the University Child Care Centre, a quaint building that has become a mainstay in the history of the University of Calgary campus.
This year marks the UCCC’s 23rd year in its present location. Founded in 1976, the daycare was initially located in the MacHall basement. The move to its present building occurred in 1993 with help from a grant from Imperial Oil, who the building is now named after.
UCCC’s primary educator Silvana Viola said the centre’s location is what sets the UCCC apart from other child care centres.
“People walk by and turn and think ‘I wonder what they’re doing in that neat little building.’ It catches people’s attention,” she said. “They came up with the theme that they wanted a family environment, an approachable environment.”
The UCCC has expanded significantly since those early MacHall days. The centre was one of the first accredited child care centres in Alberta and now has a second location at the Foothills Campus. With 92 children between the ages of three months and six years old registered, the centre is in high demand.
“We have a good reputation. We have stickers on the door of awards we’ve won and the staff is highly educated,” Viola said.
Due to the daycare’s location, the UCCC often collaborates with the university. Program director Karen Szabo McGregor said many parents are either students or employed at the U of C.
“Our focus is on students at this location,” McGregor said. “We have many families from family housing, as well as from international students. We have a lot of students who use us.”
The UCCC also partners with the U of C through programming. Last year, engineering students worked with some of the daycare’s older children and taught them about sound amplification by helping them build amplifiers using construction paper and cardboard.
“Through the school year, we often will have students stop in and want to join us,” McGregor said. “We’ve had a lot of students in the past two or three years. We’ve connected with different clubs on campus. I think it’s part of that generation of giving back to the community.”
In the past, the daycare was also a good research tool for students in faculties such as nursing and education. All the rooms in the UCCC have windows, which helped U of C students observe the children playing for their research.
“People didn’t disturb us, but observers from the university — physical education students, nursing students, teachers from the faculty of education — would come and stand, take notes and see what the children were doing. It was sort of their first exposure to this age group,” Viola said.
The centre now has 32 employees and a small but dedicated volunteer base. Viola — who has been with the UCCC for 30 years — said there is serious longevity among some volunteers.
One notable volunteer is 100-year-old Mercedes, a former school teacher who has been volunteering with the centre for over 10 years. Another long-serving volunteer is M.J., who has been with the UCCC for 21 years.
“Volunteers come and go, but we have a really strong base,” McGregor said.
Viola and McGregor agree the centre’s main purpose is to educate and foster wholesome growth — a fitting philosophy for a daycare located on a university campus. The daycare’s programming includes activities like yoga, art, music and recently, a gardening project.
“We look at the whole child and we think, how can we stimulate all these pockets to make this child solid and well-developed?” Viola said. “Children have to be looked at in whole — physically, cognitively, emotionally. That whole being has to be fully balanced in order to develop. It’s life-long learning, but it starts here.”