Fermilab director visits Children’s Center

On Friday, Aug. 26, Lab Director Lia Merminga and her executive assistant, Marcella Kamarauskas, visited the U.S. Department of Energy Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Children’s Center.

“The visit from Lia and Marcella was a high point for all of the daycare staff,” said Patti Hedrick, day care administrator. “Everyone very much enjoyed the time both of them spent in the classrooms. Mary [Simmons] and I both appreciate Lia’s interest and concern for the needs of the center.” Hedrick said Merminga even held a conversation with one of the four-year-old students entirely in Greek.

Patti Hedrick (back left), day care administrator, and Marcella Kamarauskas (back right), executive assistant, observe as Lia Merminga (right) talked to students during a recent visit to the Fermilab Children’s Center. Photo: Mary Simmons

Located in the Fermilab Village, the Children’s Center offers day care services to all FRA and DOE employees, users and long-term on-site subcontractors. According to Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab scientist emeritus and former chief operating officer for the laboratory, Fermilab is the first DOE national laboratory to offer day care services on site.

“We are so fortunate to provide such a valuable service to our employees and affiliates,” said Merminga. “The Children’s Center is an important part of Fermilab’s fabric, and we must make sure it is a fully supported and healthy organization.”

The Center opened Jan. 2, 1980, in a house on Sauk Road. It later migrated to the building that is today the Fermilab Fitness Center. In 1982, they moved to the current facility in what was, prior to Wilson Hall’s completion, the original Director’s Complex.

Today, the Children’s Center employs eight staff members — one of whom was one of the first children enrolled in 1980 — and three on-call employees, who range from one month to 42 years of service. This fall, they will care for up to 40 children between the ages of six weeks to five years.

Students participate in age-appropriate classroom activities like music, art, science and academics. While they don’t specifically teach physics to the youngsters, Hedrick said they do scientific experiments and projects that, of course, involve physics concepts. “The staff ask the children questions such as, ‘What do you think will happen?’ as well as reinforcing the concept that experiments don’t always work the way we think they will,” she said. Merminga also expressed an interest in coming back to engage the kids in some science discussions.

But being on site at Fermilab has additional perks. “The children have enjoyed walks and the ability to explore nature from watching the sandhill cranes, seeing the tadpoles turn into frogs and the turtles walking across the road to running down the hill and sledding in the winter,” said Hedrick.

Mary Simmons, assistant day care administrator, remarked, “These kids can make us smile even on our hardest days.”