Prologue to the Past
It’s been at the forefront of my mind for years…write a book. Write a book about what matters with education. Embrace the ideas that strengthen developmental processes of the individual child’s growth. A framework without walls, far from the mainstream and pigeon holing of young minds. A book that displays researched and tried methods supporting a creative model that makes a difference in the life of a child…in the mind of a child. I do just that with this book based on two valuable lessons in my life that brought me to understand: I am unique! Education is profoundly individual! If education successfully realizes each child’s potential, then each child is unique. By nature, the provision for individualized education follows. Where the ideas are not new, the Cooperative Model here is innovative and has realized the individualization a child needs to grow socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively. Education has for decades reached for individualized approaches to teach the whole child. However, when one considers the vast numbers of children in a setting where classrooms are 25-35 students deep, individualizing education becomes secondary; ‘covering’ content is priority and time poses severe constraints on the process of facilitation. While my efforts to reach the masses is a personal goal, it poses conflict for the nature of my model, unless the essence of ideas presented here remain a constant.
The path to the Cooperative Model was one that meandered for more than 10 years. When it finally took hold in my mind, it was the year my son was born. I was an administrator in a public school setting and torn with the thought of returning to 50 hours a week with a new born at home. By this time in my life, I had more than a decade of teaching and administrative experience, along with the building blocks for making a difference in education; marking the turning point for creating my own school of thought–literally.
I was invited by a close friend to a community forum for the presentation of a much needed, new pre-school in our area. Little did I know it was an open invitation to join forces to further an idea for the school. I was thrilled to learn the idea was engrossed in the same school of thought I held. I remember distinctly the dank room the meeting was held. It wreaked of sweaty bodies and bleach. The Kings Beach Elementary catered to the community like all public schools, becoming a servant to community and family needs beyond the scope of education, all of which I was intimately familiar. The room carried the title The Family Resource Center and it was jam packed with pre-school to kindergarten aged children 8:00am to 3:00pm. It had the convenience of the Boys and Girls Club on the same property, where children were herded after school hours, leaving it empty for other ventures. This venture was a group of four, including me. Two women stood proudly next to a large pamphlet of paper hung on a wooden easel. Each held a black, permanent marker. Their faces laden with anxiety over how few people took heed to their calling to fill a need in our community. I, however, sat intent with my 15 month old son and it warmed my heart to see him naturally migrate toward the other three children in the room; a natural process obviously nurtured by these two women for this moment. The women began their talk regarding a viable, safe, pre-school offering children time to explore and discover their surroundings rather than simply existing within them. A context that suggested interaction with other children and adults supporting growth with a whole child approach. They spoke my language. I duly noted my child would explore his world with these very children. My heart jumped!
By the end of that one hour, I understood that I was joining this duo in its infancy. They outlined, with their heavy, black, permanent markers, their mission, philosophy, pedagogy, and the exact cost break down of tuition based on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and a 5 child enrollment. It was almost exactly what I had spent the past few years outlining myself–with one twist. The idea of a cooperative component. As a mainstream teacher, I had a single understanding for cooperative learning; small groups of varied aged children learning with and from each other. The concept these women introduced was different. Cooperative from their perspective is families with children joining forces to educate children together in a homelike, classroom environment. I regarded my new understanding for cooperative as a helpful supplement to my model. All the dynamics fell into place. I asked to be a part of the board and I was immediately granted acceptance. Together, we forged a path with our eclectic array of ideas to create an enigma of learning for children–the Cooperative Model.
As of that day in May 2004, we had four children. We needed only to recruit one more to make the program fly. There was much work ahead, so much in fact, I’m not sure we understood the scope of it all. We simply knew our next step was to start the set up of a classroom. We had three potential cottages at our disposal. These three structures were tiny homes, each equipped with a bathroom, kitchen and separate rooms big enough to transform into discovery play areas for little people. We had one at our immediate disposal, as the remaining two were rented…for now. Lillian, who owned the property, was ready to hand it to education, one cottage at a time, and unify to build programs for children.
In five short years, our programs grew from pre-school to fifth grade, occupying all three cottages and the addition of the storage unit; which was transformed into a winter time lunchroom. Our positions on the board morphed as our programs grew and Lillian saddled the Director of Pre-school position, while I stepped up to the Director of Elementary platform. Lillian’s certification and experience was extensive in the pre-school realm, with a degree in child development and 13 years experience in the classroom. Together our experiences grounded our decisions to realize the vision for an alternative in education creating choice in our community.
This book is a compilation of the Cooperative Model for growing children and families who share the same vision for bringing experiential learning to our community, using our community as our classroom. This book represents the Cooperative Model as we developed the concept and brought it to the forefront of education. It is our dreams and our willingness to take a leap of faith to create that which we most believe will shape our children into the leaders of tomorrow. We build on unity and community, erasing the stigmas of grade levels. We embrace the minds of our children to think with each other and for for themselves.