Lynn Green, director of the Helen Gordon Center, points to a map of PSU children are working at the center. Zoë Buhrmaster/PSU Vanguard

PSU finalizes ASPSU Children’s Center move

What the change will mean for childcare for PSU students

When Lynn Green, director of the Helen Gordon Child Development Center, got a text from one of her administrators on Feb. 24 asking if she had read the College of Education newsletter that morning, she went straight to her inbox. The weekly email sent out to involved families and staff members contained a two-sentence blurb stating that the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) Children’s Center was merging with the Helen Gordon Center.


Two issues immediately presented themselves: the information was misleading and incomplete, and Green and her team—who were in charge of informing the campus that the ASPSU daycare would be moving locations—hadn’t yet sent out emails to parents.


“It had gone out and we’re like pause,” Green said. “Now what do we do? We’ve got to get this email out and we’ve got to get it out today.”


The ASPSU Center will be moving locations over the summer, starting off the 2024 academic year in the Helen Gordon Center’s building. Jose Coll, Ph. D., interim dean of the College of Education, made the decision after discussions with Green on how to best handle the college-wide budget cuts due to low enrollment. Pushback immediately arose from families and staff members, who drafted a petition to stop the “merge” of the two daycares. By April 14 the letter had amassed over 420 signatures of concerned students, teachers, families and alumni.


Green and her administrative team of two collected data supporting the move. Originally scheduled for spring term, Dr. Coll pushed the move date to fall after concerns arose about disrupting kids’ schedules mid-school year.


Once Dr. Coll made the decision, Green and her team mapped out how to tell staff and families. First, they would talk with Kim Allen, the ASPSU Center’s program director, ASPSU staff and the  Helen Gordon Center staff during meetings that day. Then they planned out two emails to be sent to families at the respective centers for later the same day.


But that week it snowed, breaking the record for the second deepest snowfall in downtown Portland. With the campus closed, Helen Gordon Center’s staff meeting moved to Zoom as all staff had access to the internet. The ASPSU Center staff, however, did not and their meeting was canceled.


“Our dates are looming up before, we’ve got to get this information out,” Green said. “So what I did was I talked to Kim and I said, ‘Do you mind if I, personally,’ because I wanted her there, I said, ‘Do you mind if I call your staff?’ And she said ‘no, that’s fine.’”


Green individually called ASPSU staff and went to call Allen back when Joanna Yoder, administrative coordinator at the Helen Gordon Center, texted Green about the leaked information. Communication between Green and Allen broke down shortly after, the silence continuing through the weekend. Green waited until Tuesday before committing to the email she had drafted for parents.


“I finally said this has got to go out… I have to do something,” Green said. “So I sent out what I had on Tuesday, hoping to include her voice.”


Adriana Garcia, a Portland State Honors College student, has dropped off one of her four kids at the ASPSU Center since early October. On Tue., Feb. 28, when the email came from Green, her kids were home sick. She recalled doing an interview earlier that day for ​​the Jim Sells Child Care Assistance Program for student parents and sharing how the ASPSU Center and staff are a crucial resource for her in her academic journey. Later that day, she got Green’s email.


“I was pretty confused just because, again, I had just like, raved about, you know, the services and like how it’s such a critical part of my success,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t really sure what the email was saying, I guess, because I hadn’t heard from Kim—who’s the director—or the teacher, anybody. It was just kind of like, this is what’s happening, and it’s taking effect first day of spring term.”


Though the ASPSU Center operates under the umbrella of the Helen Gordon Center, Allen runs a program unique to the ASPSU Center, suited for a more flexible daycare schedule that allows student parents to pick up their children throughout the day. Little Vikings, another childcare center on campus geared toward toddlers, operates with an even more flexible schedule, allowing parents to drop off kids for single events and as needed.


The move begs a question—why are there three different childcare centers on campus to begin with?


Since its initiation over 40 years ago, the Helen Gordon Center has operated with a waitlist. Ellie Nolan served as the director for 31 years, now a volunteer at the center after retiring five years ago. Nolan recalled efforts dating back to Margaret Browning, the director prior to Nolan, to expand childcare services by developing what is now called the Resource Center for Students with Children.


“Originally that was also born out of the realization that here we are providing full-day childcare, but that doesn’t mean we can meet every need of every student parent on campus,” Nolan said.


Several times Nolan and Browning dreamt and wrote up plans to expand childcare, each time running up against a lack of funding. Fast forward to the late ‘90s, when one of ASPSU’s presidents who had a child enrolled at the center pointed them toward available student building fees.


“That’s really what we needed to launch the project, was that big chunk of funding to make the space usable as childcare,” Nolan said. “We kind of had plans ready to go. And that year things just really moved forward. Quickly.”

An art project from one of the kids at the Helen Gordon Center. Zoë Buhrmaster/PSU Vanguard

Due to a lack of space at the Helen Gordon Center, a historic brick building already at full capacity, the ASPSU Center took up residence in the Smith Memorial Student Union building where it has been since. At first it operated under the supervision of the Student Development Department, later moving under supervision of the Helen Gordon Center, one result from a proposal by Nolan in the early 2000s intended to consolidate childcare programs on campus.


The 2001 proposal detailed a need to link the Helen Gordon and ASPSU Centers’ services in order to “create one comprehensive mission for child development and family services,” and “consistent, complete information regarding all child development and family services and programming available to the PSU community through single contact points.”


Though the two centers both operate under student fees, each serves a different purpose in flexibility of schedule. Childcare at the Helen Gordon Center is intended for families needing care for full days, on a schedule of either Mon–Fri, Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs. ASPSU is designed with more flexibility, only requiring that children be there for eight hours a week with a schedule flexible to the families’ needs.


In addition to the petition, ASPSU family and staff sent a request to Green for a town hall to discuss the decision. During the week of spring quarter, Green denied the request, permitting that she would be willing to meet with families individually over Zoom.


“I don’t believe a town hall is necessary,” Green said. “If people have opinions that they want to voice to me, and they are a part of the ASPSU family, I’m more than welcome to talk with them about that.”


Green mentioned that because a lack of funding is necessitating change, the dean is deciding to stay on course with the move.


“These are decisions that are made at the university level because of the decline in enrollment,” Dr. Coll said. “We’ve been trying to figure out, how do we maximize the resources that we have to have the greatest level of impact to our families? And one of those conversations revolved about centering our services instead of decentralizing our services. I think this makes the most amount of sense, given the current financial situation that we’re in giving how we can best serve our families.”


For the children and families of the ASPSU Center, the program and its structure will remain the same in the new location. Parents will still be able to operate with an open-door policy, visiting and picking up kids throughout the day, and teachers and class groups with established relationships will stay together.


The ASPSU classrooms will have to adjust to some elemental changes, however. Due to space restrictions, ASPSU and Helen Gordon Center groups will share classrooms with similar age groups while both continue to operate under different instruction and programming.


Sarah Williams, a Helen Gordon Center teacher of children three to five years old, shared that she looks forward to welcoming the group.


“It’ll be so fantastic to have them here with everyone,” Williams said. “They’ll have the benefits of being in even closer proximity to our resources while still retaining their drop off.”