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Itsy Bitsy Grand

DATE: Friday, May 13, 2022

HCC's free child watch center opening May 24

Ribbon cutting for Itsy Bitsy Child Watch at HCC

Kara Torres has tried to make the most of her first year at Holyoke Community College. Besides studying accounting, she has a work-study job in the Student Engagement office and an internship with the college's Student Ambassador Mentorship Program. 

As the mother of 8-year-old twins, though, things have not always gone smoothly.  

"When their school is closed for teacher service days or their school vacations don't line up with ours, it becomes difficult, because it's either me or my wife who has to stay home," said the 29-year-old Holyoke resident. "This semester, I had to stay home for a week during their spring break so my wife could go to work. I had to miss some classes."

She hopes that the opening of HCC's free child watch center will help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety of being a parent and a college student.

"With my busy schedule, I can't wait for them to be able to come in and be involved with this program," she said on Wed., May 4, during the grand-opening celebration for the college's Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center. "If anything happens now, I'll be able to bring my kids with me to school. That makes me very excited."

Torres is not the only one excited. The Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center was packed with HCC faculty, staff, students, as well as state and local officials getting their first look at the new facility on the first floor of the HCC Marieb Building. The celebration was held in advance of the center's official opening on Monday, May 24.

"I always say this, but every time I come to HCC something good is happening," said state Sen. John Velis of Westfield, who helped cut the grand opening ribbon. "You talk about food insecurity, housing, child care – all important issues. Every time I come here you're addressing one of them, so kudos to everybody in this room."

Velis was key to securing a $100,000 allocation in the 2022 state budget to get the child watch program started.

"So many students have to make a choice between an education and child care," he said. "That shouldn't be a choice they have to make."

State Rep. Pat Duffy of Holyoke also took part, joining Velis and others for the ribbon-cutting. She talked about a recent budget meeting she had at the State House with House Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz, who told her his focus for the fiscal year was on workforce development and education.

"Well, that's music to my ears, Mr. Chair," she said she told him, "because my top priority is Holyoke Community College"

"I mean, just the work that you all do," she told the crowd at HCC, "the support you give our community, your recognition of who our students are and what they need – you're helping our employers, you're helping our families. I'm just so thrilled to be here today in this bright, beautiful room."

HCC student parents will be able to start dropping their children off for child watch on May 24, the first day of summer classes. HCC is just the second community college in the state – and the only one in Western Massachusetts – to offer a child watch service for its students.

In 2017, HCC embarked on a strategic planning process that included a significant focus on basic needs that many HCC students struggle with: food insecurity, housing insecurity, transportation, and child care.

"We're excited to be able to make good on our promise to focus on the child care needs for our students," said President Christina Royal. "And that's what today is about, delivering on that promise to to help our student-parents be successful while they continue to change their lives through the power of education." 

The Itsy Bitsy Child Watch takes its name from the classic nursery rhyme, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, a name also borrowed for the Itsy Bitsy Zoomcast, a recorded series focused on early education co-hosted by HCC faculty and staff, and the HCC Early Childhood Education department's Itsy Bitsy Learning Lab.

"Itsy Bitsy everything," said Sheila Gould, director of HCC's Early Childhood Education program. "The name really comes from this idea that small connections make really strong webs. This is a beautiful community. I graduated from Holyoke High. I took my first education classes at HCC. So, to be leading this department and seeing this come to life today means a lot to me personally. I just hope that this can be an example for more colleges."

PHOTOS: (Thumbnail) HCC President Christina Royal, state Sen. John Velis (Westfield), and state Rep. Pat Duffy (Holyoke) get ready to add their handprints to a for the Itsy Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center at HCC on May 4. (Above) Royal, Velis, Duffy and others cut the ribbon celebrating the opening of the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center at HCC.