Children center

UWM in Waukesha: Children’s center celebrates 50 years of care, learning and fun

October 4, 2021

Fifty years ago, the Children’s Learning Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee opened its doors to serve students in need of child care.

Since then, thousands of children have received basic education as well as care through the center, which welcomes children from six weeks to 12 years old.

The center kicked off its 50th anniversary year of celebration on Monday, October 4, with a low-key event in line with ongoing COVID-19 guidelines, said Elizabeth Smith, director of the center. “We hope to have bigger gatherings later in the year.”

Kick-off included a lobby filled with gold, silver and black balloons, raffles for children and staff, healthy treats, a bulletin board showing the 50th anniversary countdown, and an exhibit highlighting what was happening. in 1971.

When the center opened with two rooms at Vogel Hall that year, times were hectic.

“During the fall of 1971, there was constant unrest on campuses across the country as students protested against the war in Vietnam,” said the center’s former director, Pam Boulton, who started at the center. center as a student and retired in 2011 after 40 years. . “More than once, I have arrived early in the morning to find broken windows and had to clean the windows before the children arrived.”

A need for childcare

But the need for day care centers for the students’ children was critical.

“We were popular from the start,” Boulton recalls, “The students needed this service and were happy to have us available. The cost at the time was 30 cents an hour.

The center has grown from the two rooms of Vogel Hall to the Kunkle Center, a former elementary school on campus. In 2014, when the Kunkle Center was demolished for campus expansion, the center moved to new facilities – especially designed to delight children – in the university’s northwest quadrant.

Over the years, services have shifted from working days during the school year to year round, eventually welcoming children from six weeks to 12 years old. The center has a capacity of 300 children, although it currently only accommodates 200 children due to capacity restrictions related to COVID-19. Its clients include faculty, staff, and members of the UWM Alumni Association, as well as some of the public schools in Milwaukee and the neighboring district of Shorewood.

A shift towards learning

Over the years, the focus has shifted from just babysitting to learning, reflected in the current name, the Children’s Learning Center.

“We provide quality early childhood learning experiences that provide a solid foundation for school and future life,” said Smith.

“We want to be a role model, seeing children as capable learners,” she added. “We really value our partnership with families, who are their child’s first teacher. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us to help the child and family thrive.”

A key to the centre’s success over the years has been the dedicated staff, said Smith.

“Our teachers are true experts in the field of early childhood education, very talented, and they have dedicated their life’s work to the center,” said Smith. “Many of the staff have spent their entire careers at the center. It really is something very special.” (See sidebar for a list of staff who have given 20 years or more of service to the center.)

Hard-working students are the key

Hard-working students, many of whom are from the university’s early childhood education program, are a key part of the operation. Smith herself started out as a student, then joined the staff for seven years, becoming a program coordinator and then director of the center. Her own daughter also attended the center from 8 weeks to 5 years old.

Many student staff apply for full-time positions when they graduate, Smith said.

“We currently have seven teachers who have graduated in the last five years of the UWM’s Early Years program at the School of Education – I had many as students at SOE (UWM’s School of Education). “

Children come back as parents

And sometimes the children who have attended the center come back and bring their children back.

Ryan Rupp, a UWM alumnus who was at the early years center through sixth grade, turned to the center when he and his wife, Brenda Hasse-Rupp, had children of their own. Her 4 year old son Arthur is now enrolled in the Kindergarten program. Arthur’s teacher is Kelly Pope, who also taught Ryan in kindergarten. Also at the center is Rupp’s daughter, Margot, who is almost 2 years old.

Rupp fondly remembers his years at the center, from scooter rides in the basement gym to building forts with fuzzy brown blocks. “We had a great time. I have a lot of great memories.”

The time he spent at the center may also have influenced his future career – he is now a software engineer. He remembers being lucky enough to play with old motherboard panels and old computers with floppy disks. “They really allow us to explore and learn.”

One of the centre’s key attributes is the sense of community among staff, children and parents, built over the years, Smith said.

Rupp still feels like he is part of this community. “A lot of friends that I made in the program, I am always very close.”


This press release was produced by UWM in Waukesha. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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