College of the Canyons will begin providing free preschool classes this fall for 3- and 4-year-old children of financially needy students and other residents of the community, college officials announced this week.
Joan Waller, director of the college Child Development Center, said the new program will help many low-income student-parents to finish their education or job training and move on to better lives.
She said the new program provides more than $2,000 worth of child care a year for each parent.
The Child Development Center received a $109,200 grant from the state Department of Education to run the program, which will begin when the fall semester starts in August. The college district's board of trustees approved the program in April.
The college will use the new funding to expand its existing child development services, setting up a modular building that can accommodate up to 48 additional children.
About half of the 48 children will attend the free preschool classes five mornings a week. The other half will attend classes on five afternoons. For a fee, parents can arrange for their children to attend both morning and afternoon classes.
To qualify for the free program, parents must be in a certain income bracket, which varies with family size. For up to three people in the family, income must not be more than $19,001 a year. For a family of four, the income cannot be more than $22,820.
Currently, the center serves 182 children. Student-parents will have priority to enter the program and any remaining slots will be open to low-income community residents who are not students.
News of the center's expansion was welcomed by Laura Papineau, 29, a single parent and part-time student whose 3-year-old daughter is enrolled in the center's preschool two days a week.
"I can't afford to have her in five days now," Papineau said. "Having her in there five days will help a lot. I can work more. I'll be able to get more of my classes done."
Because of the anticipated demand for the program, Waller is compiling a waiting list even before all the spaces in the program are filled. Parents whose children are not yet 3 years old are encouraged to put their names on the list so they can be enrolled once they qualify.
Parents interested in applications may call the center.