Becky Gates Children’s Center Celebrates 25 Years
Outside the entrance to the Becky Gates Children’s Center, children and parents are greeted by a sculpture, steeped in symbolism, of the building’s namesake. She’s depicted walking up a series of steps leading two children to a large set of gates with a globe in the center representing the world of education.
Fittingly, Texas A&M University leaders celebrated 25 years of “opening the gates to a lifetime of learning” last week during a celebration honoring the center’s anniversary. The center was founded in 1998 to serve the students of Texas A&M students, faculty and staff. Roughly 4,200 children, 2,500 parents and thousands of students have been served since then.
In 2006, after an endowment from Dorothy J. and Arthur McFerrin Jr. ’65, the center was named in honor of Becky Gates, the wife of former U.S. Defense Secretary and then-Texas A&M President Robert Gates.
“Artie and I told Becky Gates we would like to donate to one of her main interests on campus to make sure it succeeded,” Dorothy J. McFerrin said. “Right off the bat, Becky said, ‘We have to take care of our youngest Aggies.’”
“For 17 years now, my name has been on the front of this building, and I’m very proud of that and humbled by it, and I love coming here to see what’s going on,” Gates said Friday at a celebration attended by Texas A&M administrators, Dorothy J. McFerrin, parents, students and staff members. Children worked on an art project at the outdoor nature art patio and played in a nearby pumpkin patch while speakers reflected on the lasting impact the Becky Gates Children’s Center has made over the last 25 years.
“The fact that we have a place where faculty, staff and students can bring their families and have them be safe and learn and grow in an environment like this is incredible for the university,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh, interim president of Texas A&M.
The milestone anniversary comes at a time when the university has made a concerted effort to advance its leadership role in early childhood education and development, said Dr. Susan Ballabina, chief of staff to the president. The university launched earlier this year the most comprehensive institute of its kind – the Institute for Early Childhood Development and Education – and recently acquired the Charlotte Sharp Children’s Center, the second child care center under the university’s purview.
Ballabina called the Becky Gates Children’s Center a leading early childcare education center that supports research, academics and children’s development and education. Welsh added that about 60 student workers get hands-on experience at the center each year that they will be able to apply in their professional careers. And the center supports important research in early childhood development and education.
Not only does the center care for the campus community’s youngest Aggies, it also helps current students complete their degrees. One in four college students are parents, said Becky Gates Children’s Center Director Erica Ritter, and childcare is a critical determinant of whether a parent persists in school.
Children attending quality early childhood care programs are also less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be retained a grade and more likely to graduate high school than their peers who didn’t attend such programs, she said. High-quality early childhood education also helps build the cognitive and social skills necessary for school readiness, giving children a strong start on the path that leads to college, Ritter said.
“We are excited to continue with our contribution to this university, and we will continue to have a positive impact on children, on families, on faculty, on students and in our community,” Ritter said.