Editorial note: AACC made the hard decision to close its Child Care Development Center in summer 2020.
As a single mom, student and full-time employee, it can be hard for Elizabeth Benge to find time to study for the classes she needs to earn her Transfer Studies degree at AACC. That’s why the Pasadena resident was thrilled to learn of a new initiative at the school that provides free evening child care.
“When I found out I thought ‘This is amazing!’ Trying to find time to study was the hardest,” she said. Now Benge drops off 5-year-old Brayden and 5-year-old Avyn for tutoring, games and crafts at the AACC Child Development Center (CDC), then walks to the library next door to tackle her studies with no distractions.
The free service comes courtesy of a U.S. Department of Education grant called Child Care Access Means Parents in School. For those who qualify, free child care is available Monday through Thursday evenings.
The grant will pay for program supplies, snacks and two caregivers who can help with homework, games, and arts and crafts. The grant also funds a parent support group, professional development for staff and tuition assistance to some children who already were enrolled in the daytime program when the award was granted.
The main goal is to help keep student-parents in school and moving toward graduation and their goals, CDC Director Janet Klenkel said. “They can use the child care for an evening class, or even to just get some quiet study time in.”
“I was a stay-at-home mom for six years. I’m actually going through a divorce, and going back to school for that reason, so this is definitely going to help me a lot,” said Benge, a Texas native who moved to the area two years ago. “This gives me the opportunity to study more and not have to worry about finding a sitter for them.”
One of the evening employees, Jasmine Elliott, is a second-year student at AACC majoring in early childhood and special education. She and her peer have the child care staff certification required to work in the CDC, which is licensed by Maryland Department of Education and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Ultimately, Elliot looks to be an elementary special education teacher, and finds her time at the CDC to be more than résumé building. “My passion is with the little ones,” she said. “Teachers help children grow and become the greatest version of themselves. Child care isn’t just learning school stuff, but life stuff too, and I love being a part of that.” Because she works with Anne Arundel County Public Schools in the mornings, she was excited for the opportunity to work evenings at the college.
Eligible parents for the program must be AACC students who qualify for the federal Pell Grant, which gives need-based financial assistance to low-income students. The daytime program serves children ages 2 to 5, while the evening program supports up to 15 children per night, ages 2 to 12. For information, call the CDC at 410-777-2450.
Four other Maryland community colleges also won the award – Baltimore City, Frederick, Hagerstown and Wor-Wic. AACC’s award, at $98,719, was the highest.