ASPSU Children’s Center families and staff held a virtual public town hall to discuss the decision to move ASPSU Children’s Center into a shared space with the Helen Gordon Child Development Center. The group met on May 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. over Zoom, open to the public.
ASPSU center families and staff originally requested Lynn Green, director of the Helen Gordon center, to hold a town hall meeting in an attempt to discuss the concerns of ASPSU parents and staff regarding the transition. Green denied the request, welcoming ASPSU families to instead set up individual Zoom meetings with her to lay out their concerns.
“I think that town halls can get a little unfocused, and a little off task,” Green said. “I’m trying to keep in mind what this is really about. It’s not about anything else, but providing more opportunities for families on campus and using the resources we’ve been given.”
Dr. Martín Alberto Gonzalez, an assistant professor at Portland State in Chicano Latino Studies and ASPSU center parent, began the town hall Zoom meeting with a presentation of personal narratives and data he collected about the potential impacts of such a move on the ASPSU center. According to Gonzalez, the unilateral decision made by Dean of the College of Education Jose Coll, with data collected by Green, overlooked the needs and wants of ASPSU parents and children as well as ASPSU staff.
Due to the decision, two Black caretakers and teachers—Beverly Armstrong, ASPSU center teacher for 17 years, and Kim Allen, director of the ASPSU center since its creation 25 years ago—are planning to quit once the transition is made.
The Helen Gordon center has historically had difficulty incorporating diversity into their long-term staff, who are primarily white. In several conversations with Green after the decision had been made, Armstrong expressed her concern over bringing ASPSU’s racially diverse group of children into a predominantly white space.
“You’re gonna take a small percentage of kids and put them into Helen Gordon’s hoping to look to diversify,” Armstrong said. “I said, ‘if you’ve been doing it over the years, and have not had families of color come in, something is wrong.’”
Green said in a prior conversation with Portland State Vanguard that she and her administrative team are working to make applying for a job at HGC more accessible for people of diverse backgrounds. So far, she has removed the requirement that caretakers must have a four-year degree to apply, opening it up to those with at least 30 quarter hours of college courses in Early Childhood Education, those with one full year of full-time experience working in childcare or those with a Child Development Associate Credential.
Louna Agoro—ASPSU parent and previous accountant for the dean’s office—said that though they live in Lake Oswego, she drives her boys the 30 minutes to and from the center everyday so that they can see and spend time with other children and teachers of color. She shared how Allen helped one of her two sons who is neurodivergent go from being non-verbal to speaking clearly.
“I visited the Helen Gordon center and my child, who operates as neurodivergent, would not thrive there,” Agoro said. “The space was large and chaotic, and the idea that you’ll merge a space that’s worse off for children doesn’t make sense to me… I hope that this gets over to her [Green] and that she does what is just and not what is financially feasible.”
In the transition, ASPSU children and staff will share rooms with similar aged classes from the Helen Gordon center, though both will continue to operate with separate pay structures and pick-up flexibility according to Green. ASPSU runs at lower rates and allows parents to pick up their children at any point during the day, while the Helen Gordon center operates with a higher cost bracket and has set pick-up times with late fees.
The ASPSU center serves a maximum of 40 children, while the Helen Gordon center serves around 200. Despite this, families wanting to place their children at the Helen Gordon center are typically put on a long waitlist, taking almost two years for some families like in the case of Marisa Miller, a PSU career center staff member and alumni with children at the ASPSU center.
She relayed how she discovered the ASPSU center while on the waitlist for the Helen Gordon center, and fell in love with the environment at the ASPSU center.
“As other parents have said, I felt just the sense of love and community in this place,” Miller said. “It was entirely different than the daycare that we were at where it felt very transactional, like a ‘drop my kid off, I pay you money.’”
Other ASPSU center parents and staff spoke, sharing experiences of support at the center, several stating that if the transition is to occur, they would likely look for childcare elsewhere. Some Helen Gordon center staff and families attended, who Gonzalez thanked for showing up.
ASPSU Senator Ime Guzman also spoke and conveyed support for the center, sharing that despite being a part of ASPSU he did not hear about the decision until after it had been made with support from the ASPSU Student Fee Committee.
During his presentation, Gonzalez emphasized that while emails from Coll and Green promised to keep ASPSU’s low rates and flexibility, his concern went further into the future.
“They told us, ‘you’re not going to pay any of these fees, what are you complaining about?’” Gonzalez said. “I’m complaining for my future students. That’s what I’m complaining about. I’m complaining for the students who are still looking for daycare here at PSU.”
A new letter of support from organized ASPSU parents and staff outlines two new demands for Green: one, to stop the move immediately; and two, for Green to work collaboratively with ASPSU center staff and families to find an alternative solution to the budget crisis. Attendees sent a recording of the town hall meeting to Green, giving her until May 23 to respond to the requests.
If they do not hear from her, supporters of the center will organize and demonstrate accordingly, according to the letter.
“Our demands, y’all?” Gonzalez said. “I feel kind of embarrassed to talk about the demands because they’re very basic, all right? I’m very embarrassed about it.”