University opens new child care center on campus

The University of Chicago community has a new child care option, which opened its doors to 124 children at 5610 S. Drexel Avenue earlier this month. Spaces are available to everyone, with priority given to faculty, staff, students, academic appointees and postdoctoral researchers at the University and the University of Chicago Medicine.

“High-quality child care options on campus will be a great benefit for our research and patient care missions, while enhancing the quality of life for our workforce,” said Kenneth Polonsky, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine.

“This center represents a watershed improvement in supporting the children and families within the broader University and Medical Center community,” he said.

The University of Chicago and the Medical Center jointly funded the new child care center to address a long-identified need. Among those who have championed onsite child care are many individual faculty members, the Women in Medicine Group, and the Women’s Leadership Council, a faculty group within the University. The new UChicago Child Development Center-Drexel sits on the same block as the recently inaugurated Center for Care and Discovery.

“The new child care center is one of the ways we strive to support our faculty, staff, and students,” said Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum. “It is part of our commitment to supporting academic achievement by building community and becoming the destination of choice,” he said.

The center is operated by Bright Horizons, which offers educational enrichment and childcare for children from infancy through preschool. Highly trained early childhood teachers staff the center's small classes.

On a recent spring morning, toddlers and teachers sat around a miniature table to eat their lunch. They munched on cucumbers, peaches, and turkey wraps, each taking turns talking about the taste and texture of the food. Subtle instruction about table manners comes naturally in this environment. The day is structured to include science, math, arts, and movement time, as well as naps and free play outdoors.

“It sets a parent’s mind at ease to be just across the street from his or her child all day,” said Shirley Neiman, director of the UChicago Child Development Center. “Parents will often stop in to have lunch with their child, breastfeed, or settle a child down for a nap.”

Alfredo Cesar Melo, assistant professor of Luso-Brazilian Literature, said he has enjoyed commuting to the University campus with his daughter and dropping her off on his way to the office and classroom. “It’s great to be close to her, and know that she’s in the care of the professional staff at Bright Horizons,” he said.

Melo also has seen an unexpected benefit of on-campus child care: “I get to see colleagues from biological sciences, the business school and other professors who I’d never get to meet otherwise,” he said. Interacting with the broader University community benefits his work, he said.

Currently there is a waitlist for infants, but spaces are still available for preschoolers. A second University and University of Chicago Medicine child care facility, which will serve another 124 children, will open this fall next door to the new Laboratory Schools building on Stony Island Avenue near 58th Street.

In addition to the two new centers operated by Bright Horizons, faculty, other academic appointees, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and students seeking child care in Hyde Park can take advantage of the Baby Ph.D. Childcare Network and the Chicago Child Care Society, where infant, toddler, and preschooler slots are available for children of University and Medical Center parents.