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More than day care

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Vangie Wathen, 20th Services Squadron child development program assistant, sings a tale to children Dec. 28 at the child development center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Vangie Wathen, 20th Services Squadron child development program assistant, sings a tale to children Dec. 28 at the child development center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Sara, daughter of Zachary Eskelson, of the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, enjoys the playgound Dec. 28 at the 20th Services Squadron Child Development Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Sara, daughter of Zachary Eskelson, of the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, enjoys the playgound Dec. 28 at the 20th Services Squadron Child Development Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Jacob, son of Senior Airmen Amanda and Marc Taylor, both assigned to the 20th Component Maintenance Squadron, smiles Dec. 28 between spoonfuls of food from Joni Larrimer, 20th Services Squadron child development program assistant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Jacob, son of Senior Airmen Amanda and Marc Taylor, both assigned to the 20th Component Maintenance Squadron, smiles Dec. 28 between spoonfuls of food from Joni Larrimer, 20th Services Squadron child development program assistant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tarsha Storey)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Playing, reading books and talking with friends are just a few of the things children who attend the 20th Services Squadron Child Development Center here do every day.

Each day starts when parents bring their children into the center, said Susan Rufi, 20th SVS CDC director. Sometimes, especially with new clients, parents leave with tears in their eyes because it's the first time they have ever left their child in someone else's care.

The center's mission is to provide the highest quality child care at the most affordable price when most active-duty parents need it, Ms. Rufi said.

Throughout the day, children may participate in different activities appropriate for their age group, Ms. Rufi said. The most important aspect of the center is the enrichment of the child's knowledge and advancement of his or her education.

Care is provided for children 6 weeks to 5 years old of active-duty military members, Department of Defense civilians and contractors working at Shaw, Ms. Rufi said.

The center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during a normal work week and 4:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. during exercises. They also work with the family child-care office and can make referrals for special, non-permanent circumstances when a parent may need additional care outside the center's normal hours.

The center has classrooms for each age group, Ms. Rufi said. Each classroom has a weekly activity plan developed by the staff to help children grow educationally. For example, if one of the providers sees a child trying to tie his or her shoe, the provider will set up opportunities for all the children to practice and learn this skill.

Each age group has their own type of educational enrichment - even infants.

"Some may think all we do with infants is watch them, but we are consistently working to enhance their development. We talk to them, we read to them - they are learning from the minute they arrive," Ms. Rufi said.

Every day, children are fed meals prepared and tested according to guidelines established by the U.S Department of Agriculture from a menu approved by a dietitian, Ms. Rufi said.

Master Sgt. Nisa Crawley, 20th Maintenance Group quality assurance inspector, said she has been taking her son, Nathaniel, to the center for 18 months.

"I enjoy the CDC because of its educational value. I also know he's going to be taken care of by great providers," Sergeant Crawley said.

In fact, the children are cared for by highly-trained providers, Ms. Rufi said. The center is one of two nationally accredited child care centers in the Sumter area.

Each child care provider is required to have a high school diploma and complete specific child care training modules, which include tests and classroom observation. Each year, providers are also required to complete 24 hours of on-going child care education. "We also have at least seven members of our staff pursuing associate's and bachelor's degrees in child care," Ms. Rufi said.

Security is also stressed.

Parents are welcome to see their children at anytime, Ms. Rufi said. However, no one but the parent may sign the child out unless he or she has prior approval from the parent.

The center is also monitored by security cameras to protect the children and the staff. In addition, child care providers count the number of children in each room on an hourly basis. This number is then cross referenced against the sign-in and sign-out sheets parents must use when picking up or dropping off their child, Ms. Rufi said.

"I wouldn't take my son anywhere else. I've looked downtown and they just can't compare," Sergeant Crawley said.