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UCLA

The Kids are All Right

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By Aaron Zarrow, Photos by Michelle Phelan

Published Jan 1, 2010 9:00 AM


In 1970, a collection of UCLA students walked into Ackerman Ballroom looking like they were going to a picnic. But these weren't ordinary Bruins: Most were parents with children in tow — babies, toddlers and plenty of gear. The group gathered in the middle of the ballroom floor, unpacked their belongings and made themselves at home. They ate. They slept. And they didn't leave.

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Sedra and Noah Sakkour are among the 340 children of Bruin students, faculty, and staff served by ECE every year.

Their cause: to protest the lack of university child care for students with children. The demonstration sparked the first efforts by UCLA to provide child care for students, faculty and staff. Four decades later, UCLA's Early Care and Education (ECE) program serves more than 340 children each year at three centers.

"I was born after those parents did the sit-in," says Moisés Román '96, director of ECE's University Village center, "but their inspiration made it possible for me to be where I am today."

Born in Mexico and raised in Orange County, Román is the eldest in a large family and the first to attend college. As a Bruin undergraduate, he completed his work-study at ECE. He stayed on to become a teacher's assistant and is now among the senior team leading the cutting-edge, research-based care and education program.

"Moisés made the most of his ECE training and has become a leader here and in the community," says Executive Director Gay Macdonald. "He is a great example of how our program helps fill leadership gaps in the field of early care and education."

Román was a key developer of ECE's published Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS) curriculum, a principal consultant for PBS' Emmy-nominated Sid the Science Kid, and a content adviser for the kids' television show A Place of Our Own and its Spanish-language counterpart, Los Niños en Su Casa. He also visits other early care centers to offer assistance and has helped conduct several workshops statewide on recruiting and retaining men to the traditionally female field.

"I love working with parents and teachers in the community and sharing our best practices," says Román. "My primary goal, though, is serving the kids in our program and providing our parents peace of mind so they can do their best work for the university."

Astronomy Professor Andrea Ghez credits the program as "one of my most valuable resources. Thanks in part to ECE, I was elected to the National Academy of Sciences when I was pregnant with my second child."

Recognizing ECE's value in recruiting and retaining scholars and staff — especially younger talent — Chancellor Gene Block set aside $1 million for a four-year program that will provide about 50 families with a child-care tuition reduction of up to $5,000. He explains, "We must do all we can to make working at UCLA attractive and living in Los Angeles affordable."

"Some may think that it is unconventional for a research university to support a program like ECE," Román concludes. "But our program started in an unconventional way. Now look where we are."

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