Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
Since 1998, employees of the Child Development Center at the McNamara Headquarters Complex have watched over, educated and protected the children of DLA employees. This year, the CDC turns 17 and many of the original children that have passed through its doors have become high school graduates.
Just like the children, the CDC has grown steadily in size since its establishment. In 2013, the center opened a $4.6 million wing that added six more classrooms and increased the facility’s size by 37 percent. Today, the center has an active enrollment of more than 275 children, aged 6 weeks to 6 years, and a waiting list of more than 200, said Sarah Bladen, an educational coordinator at the center.
Originally an associate teacher in the infant classroom, Bladen started working at the center a week after it opened. Over the years, she has seen her share of children pass through the center into elementary, middle and high school and, now, college.
“I just love the families and children,” she said. “We had the HQC Family Day the other day and a lot of parents remembered me and brought their kids over to me and said, ‘She’s going to college.’ That makes me feel so old! But I got to see them grow and they’re the babies I held when they were little. So it’s fulfilling that they don’t forget me and neither do their kids.”
Providing developmental learning means the center teaches more than just the A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s. As part of its Department of Defense and National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation, children are taught math and science and can also enroll in the center’s summer enrichment program, said Petra Lemley, the program director for infants and toddlers at the center.
“Parents always tell us that we have such a good program and their children actually excel in the public school system,” she said. “It’s very nice to see them go around, from infants to toddler to preschool to kindergarten prep and then kindergarten, and go out being happy and really well-rounded children, because that’s what society needs.”
Kathleen Gleason, a resource manager in DLA Logistics Operations, had three children who attended the center. Her oldest son Joey graduated high school in June and attended the CDC from age 2 to 6, including its kindergarten and summer enrichment programs.
“I was aware when they were building [the CDC] and I was able to enroll Joey as soon as the center opened,” she said. “He had a wonderful experience and gained many of his social skills there, which helped him learn to manage having autism and profound [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder].”
Like most parents, knowing that her children were just a building away made it easier on Gleason, both personally and professionally.
“It was nice to have him so close and have that time together when we commuted to and from, and not have to worry about factoring in traffic time in order to pick him up at day care each evening,” she said. “Then when I had my daughter, and later my second son, I was able to visit them during my lunches. The CDC was such a great benefit that DLA offered working parents, and it helped me to excel because I had confidence that my children were being well cared for while I focused on performing my job.”
Joe Shaw’s two daughters, Amanda and Megan, were also some of the first enrollees in the center. At the time, Shaw and his wife, an employee at the Defense Technical Information Center, both worked at the HQC and visited with their children often.
“I remember going to visit the girls during lunch breaks,” said Shaw, a DLA Finance employee. “There was a good group of teachers there and they were so devoted to the children. Both girls loved the CDC and I think the CDC did a really good job of preparing them for school.”
After working at the center 14 years, Lemley feels the best benefit of the CDC is its ability to help parents manage the work-life balance.
“These days, families have a lot of challenges,” she said. “We’re here to provide them with a safe haven for their children so they don’t need to worry about them when they’re at work. They can come down here whenever they want; some parents really love that. We really give the children the best head start we can while we’re here. And that’s what we’re here for - to help parents substitute the care that they need.”