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Originally published Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:18 PM

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UW students bring kids to classes, seek child-care help

At the University of Washington on Monday, dozens of student-parents brought their children to class to draw attention to the lack of child care near the UW's Seattle campus, and to ask the university for help in providing more family-friendly areas around the school.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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It wasn't easy to keep a 9-month-old baby entertained while trying to absorb the intricacies of the state's Growth Management Act, but University of Washington student Joel McMillan did his best.

While UW lecturer Mike Schechter discussed the history of comprehensive planning in the state, McMillan bounced Nello on his knees, then tried to entertain him with a rattle.

At the UW Monday, dozens of UW student-parents brought their children to class to draw attention to the lack of child care near the UW's Seattle campus, and to ask the university for help in providing more family-friendly areas around the school.

No one knows exactly how many UW students are parents, but the school's Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) estimates that one in 10 students is raising a child.

Lack of adequate child care is the third-greatest barrier to completing a college degree, said Ben Henry, vice president of the GPSS and a parent himself. The GPSS has been working on child-care issues for several years, mostly through legislative proposals, and students are now asking the university administration for help.

Student-parents describe how difficult it is to complete a college degree while trying to raise a child. Child-care centers closest to campus have long waiting lists, and it can take several years to secure a spot, they say.

Mashael Alsufyani, a student from Saudi Arabia who is in the UW's intensive English program, said her son Othman has had problems adjusting to day care, and the facility is so far away from campus that she has missed some classes while she dashed across town to get him. "We want a day care here," she said. "This is really necessary for us."

Eric Godfrey, the UW's vice provost for student life, said the university has investigated how much it would take to create on-campus child care, but "the cost is just enormous," and "a relatively small number of children" would be helped.

Students also say they plan to ask the administration for family-friendly study rooms, play areas for children, diaper-changing stations and lactation rooms. They'd like to have some sort of drop-in day care offered at the intramural activities building, or IMA, the student-owned recreational sports facility next to Edmundson Pavilion.

"If specific ideas surface, we would look at them," Godfrey said.

A number of community colleges offer child-care programs on campus, including Shoreline, Everett and Edmonds community colleges and Bellevue College. The programs often serve as instructional labs, where students can do observations and internships while working on an education degree.

The UW does offer some aid to student-parents.

Its child-care assistance program provides subsidies to low-income students, covering up to 60 percent of child-care costs; this year, about 300 student-parents got some level of assistance for approximately 400 children.

The program, which used to get a small state matching grant, is now entirely paid through student fees — "basically, students subsidizing students," Henry said.

There is no playground on campus, and diaper-changing areas are few and far between. But the UW's law-school building, William H. Gates Hall, has a remote-learning room that allows students to watch law-school lectures on video screens while their children play in the room, sort of like a movie theater's crying room.

"It's been terrific," said Hudson Hamilton, a third-year law student. He and his wife, Sayaka, have a 13-month-old son, Oliver, and Hamilton said he uses the room in a pinch, when other child-care arrangements fall through. "The professors have been really understanding in our school," he said.

The law school has tried to use its family-friendly atmosphere as a recruiting tool, said Sarah Reyneveld, president of GPSS and also a law student. The more relaxed attitude about children in the law school helps to attract professors and students alike, she said.

But the law school is an exception on a campus where few facilities exist for the children of students.

"I rarely see children on campus, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have brought my own son to campus," said Henry, of the GPSS. "It shouldn't be that way."

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

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