Big Kids

Kids on Campus sets up little kids and SCU students alike for future success.

Big Kids
A Kids on Campus classroom, circa 1986. All photos courtesy Santa Clara University Archives and Special Collections.

After providing 53 years of quality care for the children of faculty and staff, Santa Clara recently recognized Kids on Campus (KOC) for “Outstanding Excellence in the Department.” But the organization’s excellence doesn’t stop at childcare. KOC also provides valuable career experience for its dedicated student workers.

Sam Campos ’25 began working at KOC during her freshman year to gain firsthand experience working with children. Now, two years into her student assistant position, Campos has discovered her fervent passion for family law. “KOC has taught me how sensitive and aware kids truly are to hardships they face growing up,” she says. “And seeing how caring the KOC teachers are toward the kids as whole people has solidified my interest in fighting against injustices in foster care and adoption systems.”

Staff loyalty is big at Kids on Campus, which accepts children ages 10 weeks through 6 years. More than 50 percent of the KOC staff have been at the organization for over five years, which is rare in childcare. And almost half of the staff were former student assistants including both of the current administrators.

“Our staff really love our school,” says KOC Assistant Director Mary Kamath ’05, M.A. ’14. Just the other day I overheard two teachers describing how they’d improve the center when they win Powerball. Not retire, just how they would put in indoor gross motor areas or more toilets!”

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KOC started in 1969 as an informal parent swap for students with children in the basements of residence halls on campus. Due to liability and insurance concerns, SCU eventually adopted the organization and added an infant and toddler care program for faculty families in 2002.

KOC has a “learning through play” philosophy that nourishes the child’s sense of self and social-emotional development through open-ended activities that are led by the children’s interests and lots of outdoor exploration. The organization now employs 32 diligent student workers responsible for classroom and playground supervision, many of whom are pursuing careers working with young children.

Working here has also helped Natalia Zacker ’25 develop skills valuable to her desired future career as an English as a second language teacher for refugee children. “KOC has taught me how important having a balance of instructing and comfort is when caring for kids because we are their second family. The love given at KOC is so unconditional and I will be spreading that same love in my future childcare career,” says Zacker.

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So many KOC student assistants have gone on to professional careers working with children. Among them are teachers, principals, pediatricians, psychologists, school counselors, coaches, occupational therapists, and many of them are parents.

However, KOC offers more than just preparation to work with children, but also basic parenting skills and an understanding of child development. What student assistants learn from the teachers and the children about the foundations of human behaviors, and understanding ways to facilitate problem-solving are helpful across all fields. 

“A former male student assistant who is now a software engineer and a father came to visit us with his wife and toddler. It was so sweet to see him with his daughter and even more so when his wife shared that he had to show her how to change a diaper when the baby was born,” says KOC Director Alma Ruiz ’97, M.A. ’18. “He gives credit to his time at KOC and it was a heartwarming reminder that it’s not just the little ones we work with. Our ‘big kids’ are amazing also, learning a lot in their time with us, too.”

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