A cooperative school is built on a foundation of partnering. There is the familiar and more common partnering that will happen between teacher and child and children to each other, but in a cooperative, parents and even extended family are very much a part of the partnership. This partnering is so comfortable and so ingrained that it is difficult to describe the process in which it is shaped to a person outside of the cooperative model! This essential, and often unspoken, connection we have with other cooperative schools is why I value our membership in Parent Cooperative Preschools International.
I often see comments and hear remarks about how parents limit play or exert control in classrooms in a negative way. I find these observations interesting because so many of the comments are sourced from teachers who are parents themselves. Do they check their parenthood at the door when they step into a play space or classroom? Of course not! Every single educator knows that parent involvement -- at any level of connection -- will ensure a child's future success not just in an educational setting, but in life. These connections lead to relationships, true and strong, and bind this community together. The road map for involvement is clearly laid out at a parent cooperative.
At our school, we hold monthly parent trainings. These training sessions can be about team building and establishing shared vision (both essential to the cooperative model). We also provide training for our current fundraiser, The Takoma Park Business Directory & Survival Guide. While this training is not often described as such by members, it is an important part of our parent curriculum because at its core, the curriculum promises to leave no one adrift in navigating the school community and its programs.
Our most recent training, "Over the River and Through the Woods" was designed by our current parent educator, Shannon Earle, and it explores the ways to immerse children in nature. The working session of the training began outside and as the Springtime sun set, the parents built large-scale dens and small, and even tiny, fairy houses around the yard. As the sun tucked itself in, the parents took a moment to reflect in silence, breathing in the night air, and then worked in small groups to talk about how to support children's pursuits out of doors.
The parents left play messages for the children. The first children on site the next morning were the two-year and three-year olds. That afternoon, the four- and five-year olds ran out of the school building into the yard and went on a treasure hunt for all the new constructions. They immediately got to work, creating their own or adding on to structures that were identified as their parents. Parents who were co-oping that day (we have three co-oping parents in each class) found a new way to work with the children by sharing what they had built.
Parents, through the work that we do with training and by establishing a shared vision, support the teachers' vision. We work in unison. They develop relationships with every child over time. The children learn alongside and from a diverse group of adults. We speak with the same words, but in a multitude of voices. This is the strength of the cooperative model.