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University Preschool Invites Applications

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted December 02, 1998

Faculty and staff have a very special place to send their three- and four-year-olds: the University Preschool at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center.

Located on Atherton Street just two blocks from campus, the preschool is accepting applications for next year's incoming class of 24 three-year-olds. An initial selection will be made in February, when the admissions process begins. Applicants must be at least 2 years 9 months old in August for the school year starting in mid-August.

Admission is based on gender and age balance, with priority given to children of UC Berkeley career faculty and staff.

"The teachers are excellent and the student assistants are wonderful with the kids," says Public Affairs science editor Bob Sanders, whose daughter attended the school. "Beebe learned a lot and made lasting friendships. She had a wonderful time."

The Child Study Center's diverse population mirrors the faculty and staff composition at Berkeley. This year, eight different languages are represented among the 48 diminutive students.

The preschool has such a good reputation that parents have been known to apply for a spot for their unborn child. But Randi Roberts, administrative assistant at the school, cautions that an actual birthdate is required on the application.

Although many applications are submitted early, they are not prioritized until February.

"This waiting list should not scare anyone off," says Roberts. "Later applicants are often accepted, either to balance a classroom or because early applicants change their plans."

There is no application fee, but a deposit is required upon acceptance of a child.

The preschool has two classes of 24 children each, playing and learning in an environment designed especially for them by famed architect Joseph Esherick.

Tiny toilets, basins and drinking fountains remind adults that they are in the minority. Plenty of outdoor play space and a child-directed curriculum give free rein to young spirits. The program is accredited by the National Association for the Education on Young Children.

Each class is a carefully balanced mixture of ages with equal numbers of boys and girls supervised by four credentialed teachers, several of them with advanced degrees. Enthusiastic Berkeley students assist; staff turnover is rare.

The preschool, founded in 1927 by the Institute of Human Development, also serves as a lab for unintrusive research on child development. With the consent of their parents, the children take part in studies investigating everything from responses to music to ideas about sinking and floating, to the concept of "if."

Cost for the preschool, open weekdays from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., is $575 per month -- considerably lower than many area preschools of similar quality, Roberts notes. There is no part-time tuition option. A small fee is charged for dance and gymnastic classes. Some children also attend programs at the Pacific Film Archive.

Open year-round, except for the first two weeks in August, the preschool observes UC holidays.

"We want to meet the needs of UC faculty and staff," says head teacher Christine Hansel, who has worked at campus child care centers for the past 15 years.

Parents make a one-year commitment to the school, and are expected to stay two. Occasionally there is an opening for a new four-year-old.

Berkeley staffers Sanders and his wife, Dawn Finch, sent Beebe to the Jones Child Study Center preschool for two years.

"It seemed to us that Beebe was ahead of the pack socially and intellectually when she started kindergarten this fall," says Finch. "Of course, this is her mother talking. An added bonus is that we, too, met and made friends with families from many areas of campus -- people we may not have met otherwise. We had a wonderful time, too."

Because of an ongoing research project by public health professor Tom Boyce on how kids handle stress, Beebe's class even made national news on NBC TV News.

For information about the preschool at Jones Child Study Center, call 642-7031 or see


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