'The sky's the limit': Concordia Student Union opens long-awaited daycare for student parents

The daycare on Concordia's downtown campus grew out of an initiative to reduce some of the barriers to education faced by students who are also parents.

Daycare on downtown campus grew out of initiative to reduce barriers to education faced by student parents

Sarah-Michelle Thomas, seen here with Merlin Heintzman-Hope and their son Gaël, says being able to drop off her son right on campus at the new student parent daycare means she can waste no time getting to class or to the library. (Submitted by Sarah-Michelle Thomas)

Sarah-Michelle Thomas, a part-time Concordia anthropology student, says mornings have been greatly simplified since her son started at the new daycare, operated by the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

"I just drop him off in the morning, do my homework and go to class!"

Her two-year-old son, Gaël, is among the first children to be enrolled at a brand-new daycare service for student parents at the Sir George Williams campus.

The daycare opened last month in a heritage building on Bishop Street that belongs to the university. It has room for 52 preschoolers, including 10 spaces for babies.

"It's really a beautiful place," said Thomas, whose partner, Merlin Heintzman-Hope, is also a student at Concordia.

The new daycare is close to her classes and the library on the downtown campus, allowing her to get more homework done and to drop in on her son.

"I go in and nurse him midday, so it allows me to give him what he needs," she said.

Thomas had no daycare for her son last semester, so she ended up carting him from class to class or calling on friends on campus to babysit.

Left to right: Angela Meo, Sarah-Michelle Thomas and her son Gaël, Sophie Hough-Martin and Concordia vice-president Roger Coté cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the CSU daycare last Tuesday. (Submitted by Angela Meo)

While there are already two daycare centres at Concordia — one at Sir George Williams and the other on the Loyola campus — they are geared towards staff and faculty, and there's limited space for student parents.

A parent centre that's part of the CSU researched student needs in 2011, and identified childcare services close to campus as a major gap.

Concordia designated the building on Bishop Street a couple of years later, but the building had to be gutted and renovated to be brought up to code.

Now one of the walls is transformed by a large, colourful mural featuring a fantastical landscape, where a child picnics with a robot and another flies a cardboard airplane.

The mural is the work of Gaël's father, Heintzman-Hope.
Merlin Heintzman-Hope, whose son Gaël is at the daycare, spent more than 100 hours painting this fantasy landscape on one wall. (Submitted by Sarah-Michelle Thomas)

On the third floor of the building is a community room with Wi-Fi access, where parents can study.

Angela Meo, the manager of the CSU daycare, says parents whose children are enrolled there say the service has already made a huge difference in their lives.

"Quite a few parents tell me that they were getting ready to abandon their studies or delay them," she said, but having the daycare there means they don't have to.

Times have changed

For women who raised children while going to school a generation or two ago, the student union-run daycare seems like a much-needed resource.

Sophie Hough-Martin, the CSU's general co-ordinator, said she told the mother of a friend about the project — a woman who had pursued post-secondary studies when her children were young.

"She started crying because she was so happy," said Hough-Martin.

The CSU daycare is not yet part of the provincial network of early childhood education centres (CPEs), however, it is working on becoming accredited.

Right now, it costs $35 per day for the not-for-profit service, which is below the market price of $45 to $80, according to Meo.

Meo said tax credits from Revenu Québec bring the out-of-pocket costs down, covering as much as 75 per cent of the total daycare cost, depending on a student's income.

If the demand is there, the daycare's organizers say they'd consider opening up another daycare for student parents on the Loyola campus.

"The sky's the limit for us," said Meo.


Aviva Lessard

Current Affairs/Digital Intern

Aviva Lessard is a current affairs and digital intern with CBC Montreal.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak