By Aleksandra Sidorova
The year-long paid internship program at child care centers at 15 SUNY campuses was meant to end when 2022 did, but will now continue until the end of the spring semester.
SUNY Plattsburgh’s child care center received $14,537 of the $183,000 sum SUNY provided for 13 SUNY campuses to continue the program. Two had enough funding left over from the previous year to sustain the program during the spring semester.
Child Care Center Director Sally Girard said there are currently five student interns, of which one continued from the fall semester, one previously worked as a temporary service employee and three are completely new to the center. All students are part of the education department, although students in the human development and family relations department are welcome to apply as well. They work from 12 to 20 hours a week, earning $14.20 an hour, a $1 increase in state minimum wage since last year.
Girard started asking Maureen Maillard, SUNY’s manager of child care services, about possibly extending the program mid-fall, unaware that the child care centers at other SUNY campuses were asking the same.
Maillard said a major reason for extending the program was its success, which she measured in the almost complete use of initial funds granted in January 2022 and overwhelmingly positive feedback she received from both center directors and interns.
The feedback showed the paid interns gained valuable experience in their field, showed an increased investment in their job and sometimes continued to work at the center full-time after graduation. Centers also named children’s exposure to different adults as a benefit.
The only challenges cited in adopting the program were a quick start and the processing of interns’ paperwork. Initially, interns were required to work at least 20 hours a week, which proved difficult for some students. Occasionally, interns realized from their real world experience that they do not like working with young children, but that can also be seen as a benefit, Maillard said.
This internship program is the first paid internship in the center’s history since it opened in 1985, Girard said, and hopes it will continue into the fall semester. Maillard said that while the funding is “one-time,” she sees herself asking to extend the program by the end of the semester.
Kelly Hennessy, a sophomore majoring in childhood education, is one of the three new interns to start working at the child care center this semester. She first applied for the position in the fall, when all positions had already been filled. Because the program had been extended between late December and early January, Hennessy got the opportunity to join the center in the spring semester.
After her first week on the job, Hennessy said both the children and the staff at the center were welcoming. She said she does a lot of work reading together with her students and helping them make connections through discussions. Her students are primarily toddlers and so-called “wobblers” — children 12 to 18 months old, just starting to walk and talk.
Hennessy’s favorite part of the job so far is the children starting to excitedly call her name — “Kelly!” — and swarm her when she steps into the classroom.
“The first couple of days it was great working with them, but when they don’t have a connection with you and they have a connection with the other teacher in the room, it’s like, ‘I want you to give me attention!’” Hennessy said. “But I’m so happy because now they all want to play and talk.”
Besides her work at the child care center, Hennessy has to balance class and activities at her sorority Sigma Delta Tau, also trying to frequent the gym. She said an appropriate balance of school, work and personal life is important in working with children because “kids can be a lot sometimes.” Nonetheless, she sees herself working with young children in the future.
The program provides students with experience valuable to their resumes and the centers with extra helping hands, relieving the financial strain on both parties.
“This work is aligned with their coursework and they’re being paid for it, so it’s wonderful for both students and for us,” Girard said.
A previous Cardinal Points article explores the challenges child care centers face in staffing and budgeting in the wake of wage increases statewide.
“With the state of childcare in America, we’re so fortunate to have programs like internships,” Girard said.