FORT SMITH, Ark — The new childcare amenity at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS), Little Lions, is for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, but the preschool portion of the program is still in the works. Director of Early Childhood Programs Shelli Henehan says a problem they're facing is staffing shortages.
As the program waits to onboard a new director, they continue their hiring process in other areas of the program. Henehan says there are still about 4 positions available.
She adds that right now, the employees are using the services the most, but she has bigger plans for the program.
“We are hoping to qualify for federal vouchers within the next couple of months, so that our students can have access to free and reduced childcare prices. That is our main goal,” she said.
UAFS is one of the most affordable 4 year universities in the State of Arkansas. With a majority of students commuting to campus, Henehan says the program is headed in the right direction.
“It is very helpful for someone trying to get ahead in life -especially for the parents who are trying to make a better life for their family by getting their degree, and they need a safe place to leave their children,” Henehan said.
As for Zane Gibson, head coach of men's basketball, he says he was one of the first to use the on-campus childcare, and it’s been a game changer for his family. Prior to using the on campus amenity, the family had an extended commute from work to childcare and had to pack food for their son throughout the day.
“This makes it super convenient for us because they have early services as early as 7:30, and they'll provide him breakfast, lunch, and snacks…and we don't have to bring anything, there's an abundance of basically brand-new things for them to play with and that makes everything very easy,” Gibson recalled.
Not only is daycare convenient and affordable, but the equipment is making a difference in his child's brain development.
“He's pretty active. He likes to climb. It also has a lot of different toys that help his sensories.. It has the lights, different sounds, and things like that are doing a good job of stimulating growth for him as far as using his brain. That's what any parent wants, I just don't want to give him to somebody who just sits there all day, we want him to continue to develop both mentally and physically,” Gibson added.
The “Little Lions” center prides itself on creating a diverse and inclusive environment for children attending the program.
“We want every child that comes in here to be able to see themselves in this classroom… They need to be able to recognize their culture in the books we display and the dolls we play with. They need to be able to see that some children may have to use a wheelchair, so we have dolls with a wheelchair. So we’re just really wanting this to be a place where every child that comes in these doors will feel valuable, respected and acknowledged,” Henehan said.
Henehan says she hopes to open the preschool within the next two weeks. For more information on the Little Lions program at UAFS click here.
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