It takes the Center to raise a child

A handful of toddlers walk out of the Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center near Dahlberg Hall on Georgia State’s campus. They are holding hands, being instructed to lean against the glass until all of the 1-year-olds get outside for their first outdoor “nature walk” of the spring semester.

Contrasting with the sound of innocent baby-laughter is the chatter of Georgia State’s Student Center courtyard—100 yards away—at noon on a Tuesday. Rap music is blasting, sub woofers are bumping and college student-passerby’s are smoking cigarettes and staring at their cellphones as they walk. The children don’t pay a speck of attention to them.

Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center, Georgia State’s day care, is open for enrollment to Georgia State student, staff and faculty’s children only. The average wait list is 12 to 18 months long, and is available to children 12 weeks to 5 years old. The Child Development Program is a part of the College of Education.

The Development Center is not an average day care: The instructors all have at least a bachelor’s degree in education, there is a low teacher turnover and the teachers follow individualized lesson plans for the kids.

After the children are finished with their nature walk, they all line up again. It’s now time for lunch: grilled cheese, mixed fruit, green beans (or snakes, as the kids called them) and miniature, plastic cups of milk.

The educational aspect

As the children pick through their food, teachers Bonita Mathis-Porter and Kim Benns watch to make sure they are grasping their forks correctly and are up to speed with their hand-eye coordination skills.

“I don’t think the centers outside have the insight as to the developmental part of the child. I think some of them use the curriculum, but I don’t know if they look at the whole child. You have to make sure your curriculum fits your kids, and your kids fit your curriculum,” Mathis-Porter said.

One child started crying uncontrollably, seemingly out of nowhere. Mathis-Porter walked around him as if she couldn’t hear the screaming—she said it was most effective to encourage him to use his words and not give into crying.

A notable difference between Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center and another day care center: The Center boasts that the teacher-child ratio is one of the lowest in Georgia.

“The state says I can take care of 10 of these kids by myself…but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to give them everything they need, taking care of 10 1-year-olds by myself,” Mathis-Porter said.

The children wash their hands after lunch and one is still crying, now for his mom. He is wailing—but Mathis-Porter doesn’t pay any attention to him.

“When you finish crying, use your words and talk,” she said.

And eventually he did.

A collective effort

The children who encompass Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center not only have their parents and teachers, but they get loving people dropping in, as well.

“People come in to visit the kids all the time. Volunteers, old student assistants. Parents want to come read stories to kids and we’ve even had parent firefighters come in and share. The larger community contributes,” Benns said.

When walking in the brightly-colored 2-year-old room, the first thing seen is a white board with yesterday’s accomplishments neatly written on it.

“3-31-14: Today we used our fine motor skills to peel the backs from animal stickers, explored paint using sponges and went on our first nature walk. We also read the book The Underpants Zoo.”

The college student perspective

The clock strikes three—it’s now nap time for the children. This is one thing Olushola Nadine Cole, a senior nursing major at Georgia State, has observed before at the Center. Nadine observed these children for her pediatrics rotation last year.

According to the Development Center’s website, the Centers play a large part in Georgia State’s research efforts by learning about young children through observation, interaction and research.

“I went one time in my rotation and some nursing students went all the time. It depends on your teacher,” Cole said.

She said it helped her draw connections to what she was learning about in the classroom by seeing first-hand when kids started to roll and walk.

Cole said the Development Center is strict on rules to protect the children too. If a student is sick, he or she can’t interact with the other children and outside sources can’t go into the Development Center—only Georgia State-affiliated people can.

Maya Jones is a hospitality major who has worked at the Center as a student assistant since January of 2014. She restocks wipes and bags, tends to the front desk and helps keep the children entertained.

“I was worried to even work with kids because I lack patience sometimes,” Jones said. “But I enjoy kids. They teach me patience and how to enjoy life.”

A student parent’s experience

Chelsea Mann is a 21-year-old math major at Georgia State whose 3-year-old child Grayson is enrolled in the Development Center, and has been since he was 5 months old. She says her son learned through The Center to use his words instead of crying, along with dressing himself and washing his hands regularly.

“In the 1-year-old classroom, one teacher would make the kids sit down on the floor with their jackets behind them. She taught them how to put their jackets on! At 1 years old, it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re putting on their coats by themselves,’” Mann said.

Mann said she keeps Grayson at the Development Center because of the convenience and education quality. In February, the children were learning about dinosaurs. They dug for dinosaur bones in the sand during school hours, and the 2-year-olds took a field trip to Fernbank on April 5 so they could see the different bones.

Another aspect of the Center that’s different from other places is the fact that, because it’s a part of the University, students can come in and observe the children. Mann says she is never concerned.

“If it’s very tedious, I know they’re going to get you to sign off on it. If you’re just going in and interacting with the kids, that would be no different from me hiring a babysitter at home. It’s not like they’re probing them or sticking them with needles or anything like that,” she said.

Because Mann did a Georgia State work study at the Center, she feels like she knows and understands the observation portion.

“A lot of parents would look at me and say, ‘What’s going on?’ Or, ‘Who’s that?’ And I worked alongside [the observers and interns]. I think it helps that I worked there and I know the supervisors…I know I can go in their office and talk to them, if I don’t like something I’ll tell them,” she said.

All in a day’s work

Benns and student assistant Maya Jones begin the clean up process, doing daily laundry and picking up toys. To keep the children entertained for the remaining hour, they turn on Disney’s Frozen soundtrack and play “Let It Go,” the children’s favorite, on repeat four times. The children spin around the bright classroom with their arms spread wide, repeating the chorus—the only part of the song they can remember.

At 5:05 p.m. the first child’s mother arrives. When she sees her mom, a smile spreads across the otherwise straight-faced girl and she sprints for the door. She runs into her kneeling mom’s open arms.

They gather her belongings and venture into the unusual, 30-degree April weather. As the door opens, a reminder of outside reality hits: The smell of cigarette smoke from a passing college student wafts in, and the sound of a car alarm blares outside the cheerful doors of the Center.

The last of the 1 and 2-year-old’s parents arrive before 6 p.m., and the children transition from this controlled environment to their separate home life.

And at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, it will all start again at the Center.