Cara Marcello at the Creative School

New Program Helps Cover Child Care Fees for Student Parents

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

Graduate student Cara Veclotch is planning her December graduation thanks to a UCF program that helped her pay for her children’s child care expenses.

UCF’s on-campus childcare center – the Creative School for Children – launched a tuition-assistance program this semester that pays anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the cost of child care at its facility for UCF students who are recipients of Pell Grants. The program is funded through a $3.7 million four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

If it weren’t for that program, Veclotch said this semester at UCF would have been incredibly challenging for her.

“Having two children’s tuition and my own, even with my financial aid, has meant really stretching,” Veclotch said. “We have relied heavily on family to make it by these past two years. I think having this grant will encourage students to continue because it will help avoid too much financial hardship. I only wish this program had been around two years ago, when I first started.”

Veclotch expects to earn her master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders with a focus in speech-language pathology in December.

UCF is one of three Florida universities to get the grants to implement programs that help student parents complete their degree programs.

“The idea is that if students aren’t worried about paying for child care, they won’t have to work so many hours and then they can focus on school, succeed and graduate on time,” said Suzette Turner, the Creative School director who landed UCF’s grant. “Parents who work less, attend classes regularly, and have greater study time are more likely to graduate.”

The money covers the tuition difference for the families in the program and provides some funding to upgrade the child care facility, so all families benefit. Some of the planned upgrades include new sodding and playground equipment, new furniture and new learning materials.

Turner will track all the participants’ progress toward graduation and provide support. That means students will formally check in with Turner once a semester and provide transcripts and other academic material to show their progress toward graduation. She will provide them with referrals to services they may need such as tutoring. Turner will follow the families and publish her findings after the grant concludes in four years.

Undergraduate and graduate students with children at the Creative School are eligible for the program. They must have received a Pell Grant, be continuously enrolled and provide other documents to determine the amount of tuition that will be subsidized on a sliding scale.

Nine families are enrolled now and more will be added as spots open up at the school, which is full.“I can honestly say that without this program, I would not have been able to pass my classes and may not have been able to continue my education.” — Brendan Chase, aerospace engineering major.

“The Creative School is so different from ‘child cares’ because it 100 percent is not one,” she said. “Every day I drop my girls off, we call it ‘school’ because they go there to learn, not to just be babysat all day. All of the projects the children do are explorative, creative and hands-on. I adore the teachers and assistants in each class that my girls have had. This school feels like a home. It has been a truly wonderful experience.”

Brendan Chase agrees. The aerospace engineering major has a 7-month-old at the Creative School. He describes the research-based educational program as outstanding, which is why the family has done all it can to keep his son there.

“The strain of the weekly child care tuition has been hard for us to overcome,” Chase said. “We were struggling to pay it. My course load is very strenuous, and because I had to work full time to pay for the child care expense, my grades began to decline and I fell behind. After receiving aid from the Tuition Assistance Program, I have been able to work less hours and catch up in my studies. Looking back, I can honestly say that without this program, I would not have been able to pass my classes and may not have been able to continue my education. We are so grateful and hope that other students in this situation can take advantage of this amazing opportunity.”

That’s the idea, Turner said.

“I know this program works,” she said. “We had it at my previous center and that’s why I went after the grant here.”

Turner joined UCF’s nationally accredited center in 2017. She was the director of a similar center in Illinois before moving to Florida. She has multiple degrees including a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the Saint Louis University in Missouri as well as degrees in early childhood education and childcare administration.

“I  love being around children,” she said. “I love being able to use the latest research to help educate our Littlest Knights.”

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