UAA Ends Agreement With Tanaina Child Development Center

By: Ammon Swenson, News Reporter

Photo: Ammon Swenson

Photo: Ammon Swenson

Last week, the Tanaina Child Development Center was given notice that their decades-long agreement with UAA would be ending soon. A memo from Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, Bill Spindle, said that Tanaina must be out of their current location no later than May 1st.

Tanaina was already planning on finding a temporary location while the Wells Fargo Sports Complex gets renovated in a few months, but the news caught them by surprise. While they have received an outpouring of support from parents and student government, it’s not likely they’ll be able to stay put.

“The biggest factor is we just don’t have the space we need. And really Tanaina needs to be in a better place—in a bigger place and we thought  since they had to leave in the summer anyway, it was just time to just break it off. Not that we don’t want to help them and not that we don’t think childcare is an important additional service, but not right there and not right on campus,” Spindle said.

In addition to the liability issues of having small children on campus, it also boils down to money. Spindle said that while student programs are increasing, the available funding is declining and Tanaina, which is not a part of the university, doesn’t pay UAA for the space. Spindle said that at one  point there were plans to move Tanaina into their own building, but the money’s just not there.

Despite parents being up in arms about the news, UAA engineering professor and president of the Tanaina board of directors, Scott Hamel, acknowledges that the current space is inadequate for their needs.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for the center. It could ultimately work out to be a turning point and the center could be allowed to grow and exist in a much larger space and ultimately serve more students, which is really the mission statement and it’s been limited at doing so in the past because of the space constraints. So, I think it’s a great opportunity, I just think that the current timeline is unfeasible,” Hamel said.

Parents and Tanaina staff met this week to discuss the situation and formulate a common goal in order to lobby university administrators. Even parents whose grown children are alumni of Tanaina showed their support. Parents would like to see Tanaina stay on campus, as 90 percent of them are either faculty or students. They discussed the possibility of paying the university rent for space on campus, but the main concern at this point is to get more time to figure out what happens next.

Shelley Giraldo’s son has been enrolled in Tanaina since last fall. She’s a full-time student studying civil engineering and her husband is a professor at UAA. She says she and her husband share a car and they go to and from campus together. The fact that her son is so close by while she’s at school is comforting. She also likes that Providence hospital is right across the street. The best case scenario for her would be that Tanaina stays on campus and she thinks the university has a responsibility to assist their non-traditional students.

“You know, if they really do want to support their students the way that they say they want to, they have to take into account that family is important and our culture doesn’t necessarily always support family, but I think it would be a mistake to separate family from education,” Giraldo said.

Not only is early child care hard to come by in Anchorage, with wait list that can be six months or more, even applying to child care centers can be expensive for some students because applications cost money—and Tanaina isn’t just day care.

“All of my staff have degrees or are pursuing degrees in early childhood and each teacher does development milestones with the child. They’re called ASQ—ages and stages questionnaires— and they find out where the child is lacking or can be challenged a little bit more and create lesson plans that will provide activities that will encourage growth and development in those areas. So for instance, if they’re struggling with their fine motor skills they’ll do lacing activities, they’ll have stringing beads, they’ll sit with them and show them how to correctly hold a crayon or a pencil as they get closer to learning how to write. We work with the parents a lot and partner with them in whatever development milestone they need to go through,” said Stephanie O’Brien, executive director of Tanaina.

Despite the support the center has received, Hamel, says that he doesn’t want the positivity to overshadow the fact that Tanaina isn’t totally safe from shutting their doors permanently.

He’s still concerned that his two kids, who are enrolled at Tanaina, could lose access to child care and not only would that affect his family life—he and his wife are both working parents— it could also affect his professional life.

“Potentially, I will be staying home with my kids this summer because they wont have anywhere to go. There are two things that will happen if that occurs. Number one is I wont do any research and I bring money in to do research, I mean, that’s income for the university. And number two, last year I was the director for the UAA summer engineering academies, which is a series of week long sessions that we run for middle school and high school kids where they come and they do robotics or bridge building and they learn engineering. And so that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Even though the future is uncertain for Tanaina, Chancellor Spindle said that UAA is not going to abandon them and will assist them in finding a new location.

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