In September 1991 the Child Development Center opened its doors and Dr. Sandy Briley, founder and director of the center, helped make on-campus child care a reality.
Now, after 20 years on the job, Briley has announced she will retire at the end of August.
Looking back on her two decades at the center, Briley reminisced about the inaugural group of parents and children.
“We were still having the painting done while we were enrolling families, and showing the center while stepping over paint buckets,” she said. “Peggy Kruger (Briley’s first supervisor at the university) liked to say, ‘When you talk to parents about choosing child care, they need to talk with the parents who have used the facility, and they need to pop in and see what’s going on sort of unexpected and check the history of the program. Well, these first parents won’t have any of that. They’re taking a leap of faith.’”
It was a leap of faith that many parents on campus had been hoping the university would take for years. After a president-appointed committee met for two years and evaluated input from stakeholders, the dream of on-campus child care came true.
Originally funded by the President’s Office, the Child Development Center opened in the School of Social Work building.
“I think we had seven or eight classes because our older classes (4- and 5-year-olds) didn’t fill,” Briley said. “The younger ones did. There was already a waiting list for the younger classes when we opened.”
So when did things start to grow? “The first year,” Briley laughed. “We had opened all of our classes by the end of the second year,” and then the program began to sustain itself financially.
“We had a front page article about the center in The Daily Texan right after we opened,” she said. “There was a picture of a parent dancing on the playground with her child and the headline said, ‘Center of Success.’ I loved it. I wanted to answer the phone, ‘Center of Success.’”
Success is the best word to describe the center’s past 19 years. In addition to Briley, Assistant Director Hara Cootes and two other teachers, Maria Perez and Fati Ghanei, have been with the program since it began.
“Our fantastic teaching staff is responsible for our reputation,” Briley said. “They are dedicated teachers who put the care and education of the children first at all times.”
A few former child care students have returned to the university to pursue undergraduate studies, and now work at the center. One student, Kapil Saxena, has worked as a student assistant for two semesters.
“I think the reason I decided to work there is because I really have no recollection of my life at that age. I was too young,” Saxena said. “By working with these kids, I can see what it might have been like for me growing up at that age.
“Some of my favorite moments have been listening to the kids tell a story about dinosaurs, reading for the first time, or figuring out how to tie their shoes.”
Saxena said he was shocked Briley remembered who he was when he applied for the job.
“Every day that I walk in she still gives me this motherly, endearing smile as if she is thinking, ‘I remember him when he was tiny,’” Saxena said. “The parents love her. My parents love her.”
And Briley loves the parents.
“What I’m the proudest of is the level of parental involvement we have here. It’s phenomenal,” Briley said. “And we truly are partners. They have really high expectations, but they’re willing to help us meet them.”
Wendy Anderson, associate director for development in the Cockrell School of Engineering and co-chair of the Parent Advisory Council, said Briley has created a nurturing environment that helps parents feel confident when sending their children to the center each day.
“Sandy is such a calming presence at the Child Development Center,” she said. “We just know they are in good hands.”
Anderson summarized her overall gratitude for Briley when she said, “She’s a legend. It is hard to say goodbye to someone who has been the foundation for such a positive program, but Sandy’s legacy will live on for many, many years to come and benefit many, many other UT children and families. For that, we are so grateful.”