Frances Salgado looked at the brown-eyed toddler seated on her lap and knew she had to move forward if her daughter was going to have a future. But how?
Motherhood and a college curriculum? Books and diapers? Studying with an active 3-year-old in the same room?
Salgado said if she could solve the childcare situation, she could handle the rest. She already had overcome the stigma of being a teen mother, juggled high school classes with morning feedings, diaper changes with Advanced Placement tests, and buried her daughter’s father. Getting a Liberal Arts degree and start on her teaching credential would be the easy part.
With encouragement from her mother, Salgado applied to various universities, settling on Long Beach State because of the Isabel Patterson Child Development Center and its proximity to her home. There, she could leave her daughter with caring teachers and instructors while she went to class.
The Isabel Patterson Center “has been a huge emotional support system,” said Salgado, who is on track to graduate in the spring.
The Isabel Patterson Center is dedicated to removing barriers to higher education for student-parents juggling parenthood and studies by offering care and education programs for children from 6 months through second grade. The on-campus center enables student-parents to attend classes, do homework and focus on their degree without worrying about who is watching their child, or whether they are receiving quality care.
The child development is made up of trained and qualified teachers. They are licensed by the Department of Social Services and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. What sets Isabel Patterson Center apart from other childcare facilities is the method of working with the children, according to director AlecSandria Colchico.
“We are taught to get down on children’s level and interact and listen to what children have to say,” Colchico said.
“Most of us were raised in a cultural society which says, ‘Do what I say, not as I do. I’m the authoritarian.’ That’s just the natural way we have been raised. But this group, (founder Isabel Patterson and her staff) said children have a voice, too, and we need to be able to hear it, and out of that this place was born. And it’s beautiful.”
The Isabel Patterson Center routinely accepts 170 to 230 children each school year from various backgrounds and are not pushed strictly from the academic side. Colchico said they are free to choose what they want to learn or do, which helps them grow and thrive.
“The kids that come from Isabel Patterson Center don’t necessarily know all their ABCs and 123s, but they come ready to learn and they learn much faster than kids who come from traditional preschools,” Colchico said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be.
“To watch your children, gain the tools to speak up for themselves and know what they need. It’s powerful.”
Colchico speaks from experience. Her daughter, now in college, and her son, now 14 years old, went through the program at the Isabel Patterson Center, and said it prepared them for the future.
“Knowing that my daughter was in an environment where her needs and thoughts and ideas were just as important as adults was important to me,” Colchico said. “What she was gaining socially and emotionally prepared her for where she is today.
“They (both) really had a strong social and emotional foundation.”
The Isabel Patterson Center, founded in 1975, has three separate centers on two acres that includes green hills, trees, a garden, play villages and plenty of open space. Each facility was designed from a child’s perspective by renowned architect Frank Sata. The center was made possible by a generous donation from Isabel Patterson, a former teacher and Long Beach State alumna.
Salgado said she has noticed how much her daughter had grown since being in the program and values what the center has done for her daughter and her future.
“There’s just a great support system there all the time,” Salgado said. “It’s been a relief, a comfort – a great relief to be honest.”