Family room part of ECU’s parent support

When East Carolina University student Kamryn Simmons sees her 2-year-old son, Kamori, smiling and running into the Nancy Darden Child Development Center, she also smiles.

The scene during the spring semester brought Simmons, 20, comfort as she walked to her nearby social work class.

“He’s not crying or upset that I’m leaving, but he’s actually happy to be there,” Simmons said. “It’s not stressful and I’m not really worried about if he’s OK or how long he might be crying or he misses me. I know he’s in a good place. For me, it has been the biggest peace of mind ever.”

Simmons also receives pictures of Kamori from Brianna Webb, coordinator of the Childcare On-campus: Maximizing Parents’ Academic Support and Success (COMPASS) program for student-parents, which includes weekday evening drop-off childcare (D.O.C.C.) available to ECU faculty, students and staff.

A family study room is available to reserve and located on the second floor of the main campus library. (Photo by Ronnie Woodward)

A family study room is available to reserve and located on the second floor of the main campus library. (Photo by Ronnie Woodward)

Other campus resources include a parenting pantry in Umstead Hall and the main campus library family study room, both of which opened last year.

Simmons is in the COMPASS program, which offers subsidized childcare at the Darden center and free D.O.C.C. childcare for qualified students with children. Simmons had spring classes during morning hours and works at night, in addition to volunteering as part of School of Social Work service learning opportunities. She said peers told her they enjoy using the library family study room.

The library’s second-floor family study room, located near the main stairwell and elevator, features different activity tables and toys, whiteboards, a tactile wall, colorful furniture and accessories ideal for children to learn and be engaged. Simmons said she heard about it from a fellow student who regularly uses the room.

“As we planned the room’s creation, I was struck by the statistic that about one in four college students is a parent,” said Mark Sanders, assistant director for public services for ECU Academic Library Services. “Once the family room opened, it was quickly embraced by student-parents and cultivated several ‘regulars’ who reserve it on a recurring basis. I’ve often witnessed hand-offs between two students. There were more than 100 reservations for the room in fall 2023.”

COMPASS, which is housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, is funded by a grant through the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. The program celebrated its first participant to graduate when Tori Du Sablon earned her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry degree May 3.

“The COMPASS program allowed me to pursue my degree without compromising my role as a parent,” Du Sablon said. “It is a testament to the support system that helped my daughter and I thrive together during our journey at ECU.”

The D.O.C.C. operates in the Nancy Darden Child Development Center space. D.O.C.C. hours, including summer, are Monday through Thursday, 6-9 p.m., and is an affordable option available to any ECU employee.

All D.O.C.C. teachers are ECU students, mostly from the College of Education and Department of Human Development and Family Science. When Webb describes the childcare programs she leads, she emphasizes high-quality care.

“We work on social and emotional regulation, and social learning for children,” she said. “It is great to see them grow and navigate friendships and playing, sharing with each other, independence. … The D.O.C.C. is drop-off childcare, but we take the extra mile to really value the time we have with the children.”

Marlena and Scott Rose are ECU employees who use D.O.C.C. services. Marlena lauded the attention to detail and professional environment, and noted her 3-year-old son asks to go back to ECU’s child development center.

“We do not have many resources here to help us with our son in the evenings, as we both came to ECU from another state. We are so glad to have a place we can trust to care for our son,” said Rose, a faculty librarian at Laupus Health Sciences Library. “I think anyone affiliated with ECU with children can feel their kids are in good hands in this program. This evening program is not simply a drop-in childcare facility, but it is a learning environment, and they really care for and get to know your kids.”

Webb described some of the most rewarding aspects of her roles as seeing children taking art projects home to their caregivers, and hearing feedback from families that ECU childcare makes a positive impact in their lives.

“I’ve really loved the work I am doing, and it’s become my new profound passion to help support student-parents,” said Webb, an ECU 2022 graduate in family and community services.

The Preconception Educating Pirates Squad, which is part of the Department of Health Education and Promotion, has been instrumental along with other student groups in supporting the parenting pantry. The pantry has diapers, wipes and other free items available for parents.

“What I’ve found through working with our parenting students, and student organizations, is even students who are not parents will think about a student in their class who was up at 3 a.m. with a baby,” said Stacy Sanford, assistant dean of students and ECU Cares team coordinator. “Students have written letters with words of support. I think it’s amazing to see the overall awareness and the community, not just individual offices, but it truly is a Pirate community of supporting not just some Pirates, but every Pirate.”

With the library family study room, COMPASS and parent pantry as prime examples, student-parents feel supported.

“With everything ECU does for student-parents, I feel very supported,” Simmons said. “Kamori is learning a whole lot and every day his vocabulary expands. They really are taking good care of him and teaching him. He is very observant now, thanks to the child care. … I have classes in the morning and I work at night, so this has helped take a lot of stress off me and my family members. I have time to get work done and might even have some downtime to maybe do some activities I enjoy doing.”