The Virginia Tech Graduate School is launching three child-care focused programs for graduate and undergraduate students in January associated with the university’s commitment to a work-life friendly atmosphere.

Graduate School Child Care Coordinator Marin Riegger said the programs will comprise a parent support group, a babysitting clearinghouse, and a parents-cooperative play group for children ages 2-5.

Dean and Vice President for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw said the graduate school has been exploring ways to provide support for students with children for several years. A large percentage of the graduate school population consists of students who must juggle child-care needs with studies and work as graduate assistants, graduate teaching assistants, or graduate research assistants. 

More undergraduate students also are balancing family with studies, she noted.

“Marin has done an outstanding job of putting together three options for graduate students who are parents,” DePauw said. “I’m excited about the programs we are developing. These are for graduate students, but they are open to undergraduates with families, too.”

Riegger said the cooperative play group will open in January at the Luther Memorial Lutheran Church on Prices Fork Road and will be staffed by a trained group leader and assistants. It will operate Monday through Friday and offer three three-hour sessions: morning, afternoon, and evening. Parents may enroll their child in one session per day.

“If that three hours relieves some of the pressure students feel, then we are doing our job,” she said.

Riegger said the cost will be $150-$160 per month per child. 

“There will be room for up to 45 children, 15 in each session.”  

The play group initially will be open to children of Virginia Tech students, but if space is available, enrollment will expand to children of staff employees, she said.

Students may apply to enroll their children in the cooperative play group on Thursday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. until noon in room C of the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown. Riegger also plans to hold information sessions about the play group later in the month.

Riegger said parents also may take advantage of the babysitting clearinghouse, which also will be available at the beginning of spring semester. DePauw said babysitters will be vetted via an online process.

“Babysitters will sign up and complete an online enrollment and orientation process,” Riegger said. “There will be an agreed upon pay scale, and participants will agree to waive liability.”

The third program, the parents’ support group, will be open to all students with children. 

Concerns about a shortage of childcare for students’ children were highlighted in September when junior Emily Schwarting wrote an open letter to President Timothy D. Sands published in the Collegiate Times about the issue. 

Sands responded via social media and included DePauw in the conversation, saying the Graduate School was “forging ahead” with child care options for students. and noting the need across the campus.

The Commission on Student Affairs subsequently held a panel discussion about child care and formed a committee to examine the concern further and help with a needs assessment.

Students noted that while several child care programs operate in the Blacksburg area, including Rainbow Riders, they have long wait lists of up to 700 names, and many of the programs cost more than Virginia Tech students can afford to pay.

“Everyone has a wait list,” Riegger said. “There’s no capacity to absorb more children. We’re losing students because they do not have access to child care.”

DePauw said the programs are a first step toward addressing students’ child care concerns. “It is just the beginning. Forty-five slots is not going to solve the challenge of child care.”

Graduate Student Board of Visitors Representative Ashley Francis presented an update on the child care initiatives to the board at its Nov. 10 meeting. Board Rector Deborah L. Petrine said the effort was a long time coming. 

"I think it's just terrific that we've got something started with child care," Petrine said. "It's exciting that we're actually going to be taking applications."

For more information about the three programs, contact Riegger at childcare@vt.edu.