Center helps moms, kids cope


Mother and son tackle campus obstacles with the help of the Child Development Center.

Jaiden Garcia knew where he was going that sunny afternoon. Student chatter had begun to wane as the day reached its final stretch. When he appeared walking beside a young lady toward the Santa Ana College C Building, dressed in casual clothes, his brisk stride and engaging manners showed his familiarity with his surroundings.

But his exposure to college life has started earlier than most. Jaiden is all of two years old.

His mother, Itzel Garcia, is a 19-year-old SAC student training for a career in criminal justice. Being both a mother and a student, she says, takes balancing. The task of completing homework assignments brings the extra challenge of keeping Jaiden from scribbling on her books and clanging on her computer keyboard.

Jaiden is one of about 200 children enrolled at the SAC Early Childhood Development Center located here on campus and is one of five area Child Development Centers within the Rancho Santiago Community College District.
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These centers provide care to children ranging from infants to preschoolers, and also serve as a training laboratory for students training to become teachers. These future teachers fulfill lab hours required for courses in nursing, psychology, human development, and speech pathology, explained Director Veronica MacKenney.

Constructed a year and a half ago at a cost of roughly $10 million, the one on campus is a modern building painted in pastel colors, landscaped with Italian pine trees. Vines sprawl on arbors in the front and back.

From the outside, one can hear the sound of childrens’ laughter while catching a glimpse of them swinging in the air behind a secure brick wall.

Inside the building, Clifford the Big Red Dog books are strewn around lavender chairs in the lobby and parents are milling around.

The employees’ sense of pride in their work and knowing the contribution they are making is palpable.

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“Oh, I love it. I love helping the kids and their families,” says master teacher, Ana Fregoso as she toggles between saying “See you Monday” and “Hasta el Lunes” to the children and parents.

With the CDC’s “play-with-purpose” philosophy, children are guided by questions such as “What happens when you mix this and this?” explained Fregoso.

A recent activity involved making a flower collage and the children were exposed to the different effects of gluing flowers onto paper versus silk. Picking vegetables from their onsite garden and also encouraging them to eat the produce is part of how the children learn by doing.

A student’s reaction to eating carrots they had grown, “Teacher, they’re so good!” noted Fregoso.

It is common to see groups of children accompanied by maroon-apron-clad CDC staff around campus, as exposure to the campus is incorporated into the curriculum. “The kids go on walks to the campus,” said administrative clerk, Veronica Chavez.

SAC student Evelyn Cabrera, 26, has two children who have participated in the CDC’s services. While her son is still part of the program, her daughter has moved on to kindergarten.

Cabrera’s involvement with the CDC is multi-layered.

Becoming a volunteer to be near her children sparked interest in a new career path and she switched her major from criminal justice to child development.

Her new goal is to become a master teacher, for which she needs to earn her bachelor’s degree and complete 375 hours of work experience. Enrolled this semester in her practicum, she expects to graduate this May with an associate’s degree. Beyond the love for her own children, Cabrera is on a mission. What drives her, Cabrera said, is “making a difference in someone’s life.”

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