It's the little things that third-year student Josephine Vitta loves about her boys.
"The arms around your neck when they give you a hug, the smiles, or just seeing them develop" are among the most wonderful things about 22-month-old Noa and 7-month-old Luka, says Vitta.
They also make it tough for her to step away from her duties as a mother while she finishes 16 credits to complete her degree, half of them linked to the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic. At the same time, Vitta acts as a teaching assistant for the Economic Justice Project. It's a lot to handle with two little ones.
"Having two kids under 2 years old is not for the faint of heart under any circumstance," she laughs. "I don't sleep very much, I'll tell you that!"
In a family that relies primarily on one income — her husband Chiza works and she receives a monthly stipend through the Haywood Burns Fellowship in Civil and Human Rights — and with a long commute from Harlem to campus, Vitta has needed a reliable, affordable, and convenient solution for her sons' care.
For the past 19 months, she's found it on the first floor of the Law School.
CUNY was the first law school in the nation to provide onsite care for children, and, indeed, remains one of the few legal education institutions with a child-care center on the premises.
But even CUNY wasn't always this way. Fred Rooney, director of CUNY Law's Community Legal Resource Network and a graduate of the school's first law class in 1986, remembers how it used to be when he had to bring his infant son to school.
"Friends in the Admissions Office crafted a makeshift crib for him in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet," he recalls.
You won't find that arrangement today at CUNY's Children's Center, which touts a nurturing staff, state-certified early-childhood educators, and even a playground.
While Vitta has classes Monday through Thursday, she knows there's qualified child care for her sons every one of those days, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"It's really improved the quality of life for my children and myself," she says. The cost: $30 a day for the first child, with a $3 discount for the second.
The Children's Center also allows for parents to make frequent visits. So between classes or clients, Vitta can easily check on her kids. Instead of dropping them off for eight hours at a time, she can visit, say, every couple of hours if desired.
It's a schedule that she attests has made her a better law student.
"When I feel the urge to see them, I can just go see them and then get back to work," says Vitta. At the same time, Noa and Luka "get lots of attention, so that peace of mind has made it easier for me to focus on what I need to do."
And that's to earn her law degree from CUNY. Vitta values the school's mission of social justice.
"CUNY was my one and only choice. I looked at various schools, but I really didn't see any in line with what I wanted to do in terms of my social and political philosophy," she says. "I really just want to help individual people."
Prior to enrolling in law school, Vitta worked for universities for several years as an advisor, explaining complex immigration regulations to students from other countries. The advisory work built on the community service she performed in schools with AmeriCorps during the Clinton administration. She credits all these experiences with solidifying her passion for public service.
Vitta's long-term goal: to deal with displaced people and their legal rights; people who may be migrating from place to place because of conflict in their home country or for economic reasons. Her short-term goal: immigration law and the rights of people who come to the United States.
Whatever she ends up doing with her lawyering career, it will be hard to match the quality of care her sons have gotten at CUNY Law.
"Along with some of the other mothers who are graduating, we're exploring our options of what to do next and where, how much it's going to cost, and how much time we're going to spend commuting from work to day care," she sighs. "It really is a big hurdle that's coming up."
And it makes her that much more appreciative of CUNY's foresight in having the Children's Center in the building.
"If they didn't have it, I wouldn't have succeeded," Vitta says.