The Children's Center was originally housed in a ranch style home on Lake Michigan Drive near the entrance to Grand Valley State University. The original Center was comprised of two houses with younger students in the main building and the older students in the Friendship House, a small building next to the main building. The Children's Center was established in the early 1970s shortly after Grand Valley College was started. Marge Morgan was the first director of the Children's Center and of the Early Childhood Program at GVSU. The Center was operated by undergraduate students enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Grand Valley College. The capacity of the center then was 20 children. The Early Childhood Program was discontinued to begin the Police Academy.
In 1987 the Children's Center had its first full time on-site director; Mary Ann Krause was the director until 2007. During her term as director the Childrens Center was moved onto campus. Construction on the new building at its present location was completed in 1995. The capacity for the new building was 64 children and the building was designed with an open floor plan. The center operated as a drop in center, in that children could be dropped off and picked up at varying times during the day. At its busiest time the center would have 62 children at one time. The center employed about 25 staff, most being undergraduate students at Grand Valley State University. In 2002 the Children's Center included a Head Start component which ended in 2005 due to lack of funding.
During this time the main mission of the Childrens Center was to provide childcare services for families and students and to offer hands on educational experiences for GVSUs students. In 2005, the Childrens Center became the first childcare center in Ottawa County to become accredited through the National Association for Young Children (NAEYC). During this time the center became an auxiliary under Housing, previously it had been under the department of Dean of Students.
In the fall of 2008 the Childrens Center underwent some major structural and programmatic changes. After a year as interim director Sharalle Arnold became the 3rd director and the Center was now known as the Childrens Enrichment Center (CEC). After being an open floor plan center the Center now had 2 classrooms: Beginner Preschool and Preschool. The Center no longer operated as a drop in center. Average enrollment during this time was over 40 families served.
Under the new administration there was a desire to align the CEC program with GVSU's mission and values. The program at the CEC was changing and expanding thereby adding another layer to the services provided for families, children, and students. These changes made it necessary to introduce value statements to the program thereby redefining what the CECs role on campus would be. Shortly after a new philosophy statement was written to align with programmatic changes. Increased awareness of the CEC on campus enabled a third classroom to be added; Beginner Preschool 2 in 2009. Enrollment at this time was over 50 families, serving mostly faculty/staff and student families.
Currently the CEC operates with 3 classrooms. Each classroom has a full-time lead teacher with a BA/BS in education or education related fields. Support staff are all undergraduate students pursuing education or child related fields. The CEC runs a preschool program with enrichment opportunities offered throughout the day. Enrollment currently is 56 families.
In 2011 the CEC was chosen to participate in the Ottawa County Great Start Child Preschool Scholarship program. This program has enabled 2 student families to have their children enrolled at the CEC at no cost to them for the 2011-2012 academic school year. Future endeavors include possible facilities expansions and the activation of a Student Parent Endowment fund that would enable more GVSU students to have their children attend the CEC at low or no cost.
In 2012- 2013 the CEC partnered with the Great Start to Readiness Program for one year. The GSRP program is a Michigan state-funded preschool program for four-year-old children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure. The program is administered by the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Great Start.
In 2015, after being at the CEC for eleven years Sharalle Arnold followed her passion and took a position at the Women’s Center (now Women’s Gender and Equality Center) at Grand Valley. Sarah Lord took over as the interim director for a year and then became the 4th director with the title of Program Administrator Lead Teacher. Also, Daphnea Sutherland and Jenny Evert received new titles as Assistant Director lead teachers. The three lead teachers restructured the director’s position and all took on new responsibilities while still being lead teachers in their classrooms.
In 2016 the CEC purchased the Teaching Strategies and Gold Plus curriculum program so that the teachers have a certified curriculum and assessment program. The teachers are also able to assess on the spot and communicate faster with the families on how their children are doing developmentally. The staff have also been working on ways to intermingle and collaborate more with departments and groups on campus. Along with providing our families with more friendly family events that are at low-cost or free events after center hours.
In 2017, the Children’s Enrichment Center was able to deem themselves as a self-sustaining establishment on campus. We are at this time not receiving any funds from the campus and continuously finding way to cut back on our budget. Our enrollment this past summer was the highest it has been in years and this school year we are also almost at capacity.
The CEC is on the cusp of redefining what role it can play on the campus of GVSU by providing quality care and education. Not only is the CEC enriching children's lives it is contributing to student success.