Q&A with Tina Morris, Director, Child Development Center

Posted: March 18, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette.

By Jeremy Lasich

Tina Morris
Tina Morris
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Can you provide a brief overview of the Child Development Center?

The center was created in 1992 and is operated by University Services. We are part of the university, but we are self-funded through tuition, fundraising, and workshops we put on for the community. The center is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. We’ve always been located in Patriots Village behind the P.E. Building, and we have three modules for our three classes. I think we are a little jewel that nobody knows about, hidden on the campus.

The children are distributed among three sections: Teddy Bears (two- and three-year-olds), Polar Bears (three- and four-year-olds), and Panda Bears (four- and five-year-olds). All of our full-time teachers have a degree in a child-related field in education. We also have one assistant teacher and several George Mason students who are wage employees. We get volunteer support from the Psychology Department and the Dance Department, and we have nursing students who come here to do a project for about six or eight weeks.

What are the requirements to enroll a child at the center?

Basically, we are here for faculty and staff members’ and students’ children. Anybody affiliated with George Mason can apply to have his or her child or grandchild enrolled here. We accept children from the general public, but only if there are slots available after the George Mason community has been served. The parents have to fill out a registration form and pay a $50 nonrefundable fee. The child will be placed on a list until a spot is available–there is currently a waitlist for two-year-olds. Right now we have 20 two-year-olds with four teachers in the room. Our capacity is 60 children, and our current enrollment is 56.

What are some of the programs and activities you plan for the kids?

We use a play-based curriculum because we believe children learn through play. Right now one of our teachers is doing a lesson on insects, so the kids go out and collect a few insects to go along with stories and drawings about them. We do a lot of hands-on activities. We also have parents who have special talents come in to work with the kids, we have pets come in, we bring in ponies, we bring in a petting zoo, and we go to the circus.

We get out and explore the campus a lot. We try to utilize as much of the campus as possible. We are always looking for a department or organization that has a program or project that they would like us to be involved in. We are starting to add swimming as we become more involved with the Aquatic and Fitness Center. We also go trick-or-treating every year around campus.

What is the level of parent involvement at the center?

We have an open-door policy–parents are always welcome here. Many of our parents join their children for lunch. We have a Parent Advisory Board that meets once a month and helps us with different projects. It’s a good time for them to express their concerns or ask us what our needs are. We have a lot of parents involved with it, and we have several parents who come along with us when we go on trips or walks.

What are some of the important issues the center is dealing with right now?

Right now we are dealing with the age of our buildings and facilities. We are looking forward to planning a facility in the near future, provided we get the funding we are hoping for. There is the potential to open a new building in 2006. Currently, we are focusing on keeping the buildings we have now up and running–they are old.

We are always concerned with enrollment. We’re close to capacity now, but when we get a new center, we want to expand our enrollment so we can serve our community a little bit better.

We’re always concerned with funds. We just had a Professional Development Day in February and raised $30,000, so we were very pleased with that. Part of my job is to raise the funds to keep the center operating at a high level. Other challenges we have right now are a lack of parking when we have big events for the parents and a lack of space for the children to play inside during inclement weather.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your job?

The best part of the whole job is the kids. I love to get out of the office and go play with them. I really enjoy the events, too. I think I have one of the best jobs on campus. I work with the kids, I get to meet the parents, I have college students working with me–it’s never boring. We have a book fair coming up on April 13, we are having some evening workshops, we will have a dance program soon, we are going bowling, and we are going to have a movie day in the Johnson Center Cinema. We are holding a silent auction in May. We did this last year and raised enough money to remodel our playground and get new equipment. The fun part is planning for the kids and trying to come up with new activities on a regular basis.

What is your background?

I graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a child development major. I took a break to start my family of three children, and my husband is in the military, so I spent a lot of time in daycare centers, preschools, and elementary schools all around the country. When I came to Virginia, I started working at a preschool in Burke before coming here as a Polar Bear teacher in 2002. When the director left last year, I was appointed as interim director, and I became the full-time director in July.

What are some of your future plans for the center once you move into your new space?

We have talked about adding a kindergarten, which would give the parents an option to leave their children here longer. We are also looking at adding some evening hours. There are a lot of single parents out there who go to school at night but don’t have a place to leave their kids. Of course, it all depends on funding and staffing, but our vision is to become more responsive to the needs of the community.

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