The Cody Child Development Center (CDC) on Fort Myer in Arlington did not come into being because of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, but it was greatly impacted by that tragic event. As a result of the terrorist strike, a plan that had been in place for some time for a new Pentagon facility was greatly altered. This change led to a positive impact on many more lives than had originally been intended.
The history of the new CDC is a poignant one, demonstrating that “good comes out of evil,” to quote the naturalist and essayist John Burroughs. Instead of a center being built for the Pentagon alone, the whole project moved to Fort Myer. It went from being a facility to serve just one building to merging with one that accommodates Department of Defense personnel, both active duty and civilian, in the National Capital Region. As a consequence, the new Fort Myer CDC building itself was greatly expanded.
On that fateful day, the children were led out of the Pentagon center in fire drill fashion. This was something they routinely practiced and no one was hurt. They were taken to a knoll near the CDC, which was on the grounds of the Pentagon, not inside the building. There they waited. All but two were picked up by the parent working there. The mothers of those two were killed in the blast.
The children stayed in the Pentagon CDC until December 2004. Because of security concerns, they then moved to a temporary facility at Fort Myer.
The new and expanded Cody Child Development Center opened in July 2008. The Fort Myer 50,813-square-foot building sits on 7 1/2 acres and is surrounded by grassy yards and play equipment. It is the largest in the Army.
There are three wings. Two are for infants, toddlers and preschoolers and the other is for school-age children. The School Age Services program is for first grade and up. This includes afterschool and extended day care. CDCs on military facilities often differ from child development centers in civilian communities. They tend to be open longer hours and more days during the year to accommodate parents on active duty.
There are classrooms, offices, a commercial kitchen, rooms specifically for homework, a technology room complete with computers and an open multipurpose room and an atrium. All spaces are designed to be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the community.
Jamie Ruffin, the child youth and school services coordinator, in effect the principal, has a bachelor’s degree in child development and a master’s degree in family law and policy. Though it is not required that those in charge of individual classrooms have degrees, the Army training regimen for anyone working with the children is extensive.
In addition, this facility has three full-time trainers on staff. They orient and supervise new hires, who must complete an 18-month training schedule. They also observe all classrooms, and provide ongoing employee training.
The center utilizes creative curriculum, which is used by all CDC programs in the Department of Defense for ages 6 weeks to kindergarten. It is also the most widely used program in states that have pre-K. It is a scientifically based and comprehensive system that includes services for children with special needs and non-English speaking children as well.
This is the second year for the Strong Beginnings Pre-K, a program designed to prepare children for kindergarten. This year there are 62 enrollees. The program includes work on language and reading, math, science, computers, social studies and the arts. It also incorporates tools for observing and assessing progress on an individual basis.
The center has a capacity of 438; it currently has that plus a waiting list of 600.
“There is a huge need for infant care,” Miss Ruffin said. Consequently, there are plans to build another facility on Fort Myer. The site that is being discussed is the location of the former temporary facility.
Child care has long been an important part of military communities. Over the years, it has evolved from baby-sitting into highly organized and effective systems that prepare children to succeed in school and in play. Professional child care also plays a crucial role in mitigating the unique challenges that affect children of military families.
This year, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, www.naccrra.org, ranked all states and the District in terms of their oversight and regulation of child care centers. In this study, the DoD child development centers are considered a state. In the organization’s assessment, these military CDCs were ranked No. 1 in the country. The Cody Child Development Center is a fine example of that judgment, according to many members of the military community.
• Linda Bartlett is a writer living in Annandale. Her husband is a retired Army colonel.
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