The Infant Toddler Center (ITC) works in conjunction with Wimpfheimer nursery school to provide daycare for children of the community or of faculty members. ITC is for toddlers who are too young to attend Wimpfheimer, which is for children who are two years or older.
Both the ITC and Wimpfheimer provide care and experimental pre-school education through collaborated work with experienced staff members, Vassar professors who are education experts, and of course, Vassar students. ITC provides full-time employment opportunity for interested and invested Vassar students who like to work with kids.
Not taking your eyes off the kids, planning activities and games, playing with and taking care of the kids, and cleaning their toys is very different from other office jobs.
Nathaniel Wulff ’15 explained that it is different from other campus jobs because it is more quickly paced, dynamic, and most of what you’re doing is hands-on. Objectives of the day can change quickly, because kids are constantly on the move. “The teachers will ask that you stop in the middle of a task to take care of a more immediate problem.”
Because the tasks involved are so different from other campus jobs, this job also demands different sets of skills and responsibilities. Jesslyn Mitchell ’15 explained,“Not everyone has the patience or bravery to sit in a room full of screaming infants and toddlers. The community among the staff is incredibly immense stemming from the bonding experiences we all share with the children. Additionally, because it takes a special type of person, the staff bonds through our love of children and dedication to a safe and loving environment.”
Because the children’s needs are always considered top priority, Yuna Shaughnessy ’13 said “Skipping shifts and inappropriate behavior are taken very seriously.”
Wulff concurred that it is definitely not a job for everyone. The ITC is a more stressful environment, where the student employees are responsible for young childrenwho don’t understand what activities are dangerous, and who can’t always communicate what they want except through crying and yelling,
He added, “You have to constantly be aware of what’s going on and what might go wrong so you can prevent any major potential problems.”
Despite some huge responsibilities, the students found the experience rewarding because they feel they are doing work that really matters. Mitchell has never worked anywhere else on campus, but added, “It seems like I enjoy my work substantially more than my friends, because I know and see how my work matters in the broader world. You see the direct results of your work both for the children’s days and in their actions and growth.”
Working at the ITC teaches students not only unexpected things about themselves, but also gives them insight into human perception and development. Mitchell said, “Working with toddlers is especially amazing because you are helping shape these children’s perceptions and understandings of their uncertain world. Nothing makes you think about your conceptions and misconceptions of the world like being asked ‘why?’ Children are the purest form of a human being both emotionally and mentally.”
Shaughnessy said, “I worked there all summer and watching them grow all throughout this year was amazing because I got to see them reach certain milestones, like first steps, words, full sentences.”
Witnessing these key moments in the lives of the children they look after, it is inevitable that a close relationship will form between student and child.
Shaughnessy said, “It’s hard not to get attached to them; I don’t think anyone who works at the ITC doesn’t establish a particular bond with at least one child.”
Wulff concurred, “You learn so much about each child’s personality, their ups and downs. They also learn about you, so inevitably you form bonds with students and miss them when they aren’t at school or when you go on breaks. And, of course, I’m always a little heartbroken when they move out of the ITC or if a child moves away, but the way you grow as a person when you form relationships with others completely outweighs any sadness you feel when they move on.”
Though these experiences are invaluable, the ITC employees do not feel that their wages reflect the demanding nature of their work. The job pays $7.25, which is the minimum wage for campus employment. Mitchell said, “I feel that students who work at the ITC and Wimpfheimer have much more responsibilities than most other jobs. We actively ensure the safety of people’s children. Furthermore our responsibilities span over several areas; we do good amounts of cleaning and chore work as well as organizational and office work. While we are not certified teachers, much of the time we work alongside teachers playing pivotal roles on the learning and socialization process of the human beings who will one day run our governments and businesses.”