Century-old children’s ed program facing end

In the 1950s, University of Nevada student Nancy Alberti instructed children in the Child Development Lab, now called the Child and Family Research Center.

In the 1950s, University of Nevada student Nancy Alberti instructed children in the Child Development Lab, now called the Child and Family Research Center.


For more than a century in Reno, children have been going to college.

They haven’t been getting a college education, understand, but they have been getting an education. They go to a school called the Child and Family Research Center (CFRC). Until 1970, it was called the Child Development Lab.

Many former University of Nevada, Reno students have memories of the children playing at recess on campus. Although no one ever thought to form a CFRC alumni group, it would be pretty big. An exact year it began operating seems to have been lost, but “the early 1900s” is often given. The campus was then usually called Nevada State University.

Children from the community and the children of faculty members are students. As the economy evolved and households could no longer survive on a single income, CFRC also evolved into a child care facility. Demand for spots in the program normally exceed supply. “The kids are taught to socialize at the same time they are taught their letters and numbers,” said one faculty member who has observed class sessions. “Children help one another.”

UNR’s class catalog contains a capsule description: “The Child & Family Research Center provides a learning laboratory which supports the education and training of students in the department college and other units on campus. The center also serves as a research site for investigations that focus on particular aspects of infancy, toddlerhood, preschool or family development. The Child and Family Research Center was the first early childhood program in the state to be accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs and has long served as a model for best practices in northern Nevada.”

With that level of pride elevated to the catalog, why is UNR trying to get rid of the Center?

Or is it? There is conflicting information coming out, some by word of mouth, others in legal jargon. The Center’s former director, Eva Essa, is trying to save it. The campus says it’s in no danger. After Essa wrote an essay for the Reno Gazette-Journal objecting to the Center being replaced, UNR President Marc Johnson sent a message to Essa reading, “I just want to make clear that the university has not even considered closing the CFRC.”

However, in December, UNR invited commercial child care facilities to submit a statement of their qualifications to establish a new child care facility on the campus. That document read in part, “Existing Child Care Facilities … will be replaced as a result of this project.” The document was titled, “Replacing and Expanding University Child Care Capacity.”

In fact, the word replace appears in various forms nine times in that document. And CFRC is “excluded” from being a contender for the contract.


CFRC has more than once requested funding for expansion. In fact, at one point a feasibility study was being launched, and an architect was at work when there was a change of administrations that brought it to a halt.

In a Gazette-Journal essay responding to Essa, UNR Provost Kevin Carman and Education Dean Kenneth Coll wrote, “As a very tangible sign of our commitment to the CFRC, the College of Education provided much needed space and a playground in the William J. Raggio Building for about 35 four- to six-year-olds.”

On the other hand, the university also sold the current home of the program out from under it. This is the former Reno Gazette-Journal building at Second and Stevenson streets.

Carman was asked why the existing program is not simply being expanded instead of bringing a commercial player into the mix. He said, “We’re not going to get more than one building from the legislature each session,” and UNR has engineering in that slot this year. So a public/private partnership seemed like a good step, he said. A similar approach was taken to grad student housing.

One campus source said of Carman, “He’s one of these guys who thinks all programs should pay for themselves.“

He responded, “Interesting observation. I think that we have to look at economic realities, not completely self-supporting but some self support.”

However, given the language of the request for qualifications that a program is being “replaced,” some of the firms that look at it may be taken aback when they learn it is actually a public/private partnership.

Carman said one thing the Center has going for it is that “There are certainly a lot of loyal alumni.” That is always helpful because even with legislative support, a school needs private donors.

“There’s a lot that’s special about it,” Essa said of the school. “The comments that we’ve been getting [on petitions to keep the school going], people are grateful not just for the education, but the social/emotional preparedness their children got, the ability to communicate well, work with other people. It’s just a very positive and nurturing environment and results in kids that are amazingly well prepared to face life.”