Far away from the hustle and bustle of campus, on an idyllic stretch of shady land off Western Drive, exists another university. Here, students live the college dream. They are cooked full meals each day, play outside at recess and have designated nap times.
This is Miami University's Child Development Center, one of four child care centers that operate under the Mini University umbrella. This summer, Ohio awarded the Mini University on Miami's campus, and its three other locations in various areas of Dayton, a 5-star rating for meeting the state's highest education standards.
The "Step Up To Quality" rating measures the quality of teachers, curriculum and staff-child ratios among 1,400 Ohio child care centers. Of the 300 centers in Butler and Warren Counties, the Child Development Center was one of three to receive a 5-star rating.
"Our commitment to providing both an education and care to the children is what sets us apart," said Christy Grundei, director of the Child Development Center.
Opened in 2002, the Child Development Center offers care and education for up to 120 children of Miami University faculty, students and community members. The children range from 6 weeks to 12 years old, with the majority in the three preschool classes. Some come each day all year round; others attend part time, after school or just during the summer.
Grundei said the Mini University's four campuses take a more modern approach to child care - they operate more as a school than simply as a day care.
"The term 'day care' is an old school term," she said. "Traditional child care nowadays is much different than when I was younger. As part of the Step Up to Quality, our system is education based. It is a learning environment that be
gins when the children are infants. Even our school age children who come after school participate in learning activities."
Mini University administers a strict hiring process, only employing teachers with bachelor's degrees or beyond. The 16 teachers and assistant teachers employed at Miami's location, and the eight Miami University part time student workers, participate in a "creative curriculum," where lessons are taught mainly through play, but also align with Ohio's Common Core and Early Learning standards.
Junior Alex Abboud is one of the eight student workers who vary in major but share a common interest in working with children. She assists the main teachers in their lesson plans or activities, depending on which classroom she is in.
"My favorite part about working with the children is seeing how cute and naïve and innocent they are," she said. "It is such a nice, fun break from the normal stress of every day college life, and I look forward to going to work every day."
Abboud lauds Mini University for its commitment to each individual family, remembering faces and knowing specific details, like pets each family owns or siblings' birthdays - little facts she thinks workers most child care centers wouldn't take the time to remember.
This special attention to detail is why 26-year-old senior Callie Ramer trusts the Child Development Center with her 4-year-old son, Jacob. While more than half the kids enrolled at the child care center are faculty's children, Ramer is part of a small percentage of student parents who rely on the center to watch their children as they attain their own education. The Child Development Center offers discounts to Miami University employees and students, and many student parents also receive funding through the state
As a single mom who takes a full class load and works at the Student Package Center, Ramer praises the Mini University's flexibility when handling parents' hectic schedules, support she notes is lacking at other child cares in the area.
Ramer is also an education major who hopes to one day teach first and second grade. She said she understands the value of a quality education, even at the preschool age.
"I want Jacob to excel in school. I know what is important as an education major," she said. "He is learning how to spell and write his name. He is learning so much and that is awesome."
Another student mom, 22-year-old public health major Lauren Anderson, said the Child Development Center has already had a positive influence on her 18-month-old daughter, Kailyn, who has only been enrolled at the center this semester.
"The structure and the social interaction in the classes is great," she said. "Kailyn is the younger one in her class, but she is already maturing so quickly. She is way above anyone else her age I have seen, and I attribute that to the education she is getting there."
Without the Child Development Center close by, Ramer said she wouldn't be able to do what she needs to do to provide for her son.
"There is a certain stigma that comes along with being a young single mom. That you're not good enough, not smart enough," Ramer said. "But at Mini U, they never judge. They are so welcoming."