Community protests closure of child care center at Mount Holyoke College

Hampden County

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Community members are making their opposition clear over Mount Holyoke College closing its child care center.

Dozens of families stood outside Mount Holyoke College to protest the closure of Gorse Children’s Center.

In a statement to 22News, Mount Holyoke College said that it was a “very difficult decision” and that arrangements have been made to “provide financial support for employee childcare for all eligible faculty and staff.”

The protestors are asking the school to reconsider, especially since it has an impact on the surrounding community as well.

“A huge impact. It’s been here for decades and this is just the families that are actively at Gorse now during the pandemic there’s more than this,” said Allie Lepper of South Hadley.

The children’s center employs 24 staff members and over 80 families from the surrounding area currently use the center. Gorse, which is on the school’s campus, is set to close on June 30. A petition has been started for this cause as well.

Letter to Mount Holyoke re: Gorse Closure

Hi, all:

Following the recent notice that Mount Holyoke is closing Gorse, we have prepared a letter to the President of the College asking them to reconsider. If you have a moment to read the letter and want to sign your name to support our request, please fill out the form below. Every signature helps.

Please forward this to anyone else you know who may also be willing to sign. This includes other parents/caregivers, community members (even if they don’t have a child enrolled at Gorse), and MHC faculty/staff.

We are hoping to get this to the College soon. If you include your email below we will be sure to keep you updated as to any response from Mount Holyoke.

Thanks,

Allie and Joe Lepper

*******************************************************************************************************************

President Stephens:

I am writing this letter on behalf of my family and on behalf of all of the individuals and families who have signed below.

The Gorse community was shocked and saddened to learn of Mount Holyoke’s recent decision to terminate its relationship with Bright Horizons and to close the Gorse Children’s Center as of June 30th. Gorse has a long and engrained history in this community, and I write to you today in the sincere hope that you will reconsider your decision to close the center.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread loss and need for financial austerity in many difficult areas, access to quality childcare has remained a constant, critical, and unavoidable need. As you know, following the long-term closures in March of 2020, many families needed to find temporary solutions for childcare, or find ways to adjust and balance working while caring for their children. As childcare centers were permitted to re-open, Gorse began welcoming families back with sincere gratitude for the ability to reunite our community – because each and every family was genuinely missed. As you may be aware, Gorse is unlike many other typical childcare settings in that there is truly a sense of community among its members that extends far beyond the classroom. Gorse is a community of children and caregivers who care deeply for one another, and support Gorse and its mission in so many ways.

As a parent, I am at a loss as to how the decision to uproot the established routines and caregiving arrangements for so many children and families was made without prior notice or input from the Gorse community. To the extent the College believes that there were operational or other issues with the center, my understanding is that the beneficiaries of the center were not consulted to substantiate or dispute same. Upon receiving notice of the planned closure on Tuesday evening, I, along with many of those signed below, immediately began outreach to other local daycare facilities in an attempt to secure alternate child care arrangements. While the College may have believed this was ample notice for closure, I can assure you it was not. We have been met with unprecedentedly long waitlists, and told that we may be waiting upwards of 1-2 years for an available slot. At a time when we should be focusing on family and care of others, it is remarkably careless and short-sighted for the College to shut down this vital resource for families. Aside from the extreme uprooting this decision has caused, I am also grieving the loss of Gorse’s robust (and NAEYC accredited) early childhood experience for my son. Indeed, deciding to whom you entrust the care of your child is one of the most important decisions a caregiver can make. I chose Gorse for many reasons, not the least of which being its phenomenal curriculum through Bright Horizons, its dedicated and caring staff, and its fabulous reputation. The assurance of knowing that your child is in the care of experienced and capable individuals, and is able to spend his days being enriched by planned curriculum and meaningful engagement is incomparable piece of mind. My family’s experience with the Gorse programming, services, and staff has been unparalleled. I cannot overstate the enormity of this loss for the College and the South Hadley and surrounding communities.

As an alumna of Mount Holyoke College’s Neuroscience and Behavior program (’09), I am devastated at the loss of such an integral part of the College’s Psychology program. Having an on-site child study center is an incredible component of the College’s psychology course offerings, in particular for those who seek to pursue developmental psychology and/or education. For the College to gut its own practicum geared toward cultivating the world’s future educators seems inexplicably at odds with Mount Holyoke’s mission to educate.

Closure of the center also puts caregivers of children who attend Gorse in the untenable position of having to choose between leaving their child in some less comprehensive form of care (if it is even available), or infringe upon their ability to work. It goes without saying that more often than not, the exceptional responsibility of being the primary caregiver falls disproportionately on women. I sincerely believe that access to childcare serves a crucial role in adjusting for inequitable distribution of domestic labor. Personally, I have always felt proud that my alma mater prioritized childcare in the way it did with Gorse. The College’s expansion of the center in partnership with Bright Horizons, and focused dedication to quality care and education seemed to demonstrate that the College was acutely aware of the intrinsic value of accessible childcare. Up to this point, I was secure in my belief that this was something Mount Holyoke valued, and felt empowered and grateful to be able to work full-time while knowing that my child was in good hands. Upon the closure of Gorse, my family, like many others, will be waitlisted for the few centers available in the local area, and as a result, I will need to adjust my professional life accordingly. While this is the reality of so many during this pandemic, it is difficult to accept that Mount Holyoke would so severely undervalue this resource that plays such an important role in supporting gender equity.

As a long-time resident of South Hadley, I am aware of Gorse’s lengthy history and role in our community. Mount Holyoke’s closure of Gorse is a profound disengagement from its community, particularly in light of the College’s extensive, ongoing focus on improving and updating its infrastructure. I am concerned by the College’s apparent short-lived use of the center: a building renovated and retro-fitted in a large-scale expansion to serve the exact purpose it has served for the last decade. The complete dearth of information and assistance provided to Gorse families relating to this closure also raises questions about the College’s motives and intentions in closing a center, with no indication of another option becoming available in the space uniquely designed for this purpose.

Finally, as a former student of the Gorse Children’s Center, I am along the many thousands of others who benefitted personally from the services provided at Gorse. Nearly thirty (30) years ago, my sister and I attended Gorse Children’s Center while my mother worked full-time for the College. I have wonderful memories of time spent with many of the staff who remain at the center today, and firmly believe that my time at Gorse was formative.

I am acutely aware that there is a myriad of administrative, financial, and legal constraints that may have contributed to the College’s decision to close Gorse. What I cannot fathom, however, is how this determination was made without any meaningful effort to engage or communicate with the hundreds of families who make up the Gorse community. I, on behalf of all those signed below, implore upon the College to reassess its determination to close the Gorse Children’s Center, and would welcome and appreciate the opportunity to speak with you via Zoom to discuss what, if anything, we may do as a community to support this goal.

Very Truly Yours,

Allison Lepper

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