By Linda Rusenovich
For parents considering options for their child’s first educational experience outside the home, the Elgin Parent Cooperative School (EPCS) model offers unique advantages. It provides children with learning experiences that go beyond what each parent can provide at home, and gives parents skills and confidence as teachers.
Our co-op school in Elgin, Illinois employs a Director/Teacher who is certified in early childhood education. She develops curriculum and guides parent volunteers in providing a positive environment for creative play and learning. Parents staff the school on a rotating schedule; newer parents work with more seasoned members, some of whom have years of parenting experience. Personally, I picked up valuable parenting tips by watching other parents and the teacher interact with children in the “ordered chaos” of the school day.
All co-op parents also participate in monthly “adults-only” evening staff meetings. Parents read and discuss the classic parenting book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which teaches them how to interact with the children in a positive and effective way. The director shares insights on each child’s strengths and challenges. Other parent staffers may offer input based on their own interactions with the child. When problems occur among the children, parents address them together and work out a plan.
The Elgin Parent Co-op School website, https://elginpreschool.com/ explains: This is a school for parents who believe in their role as teachers and wish to stay involved in their children’s lives as they begin their education…. Having parents give more of their time and talents as staff members allows EPCS to keep preschool tuition rates low.
I learned from a recent board member that, sadly, EPCS has run into problems with the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and has been unable to reopen after pausing for COVID-19. It seems that DCFS requires a higher certification for the director than EPCS wants, needs, or can afford. How ironic that this grassroots, community-based organization that costs taxpayers nothing and has served hundreds of families since 1970 is being blocked from reopening by the state of Illinois’ bureaucracy. (Some observers wonder if the pandemic presented DCFS with a convenient excuse to close a successful school that operates outside the reach of government.—Ed.)
Groups wishing to start a cooperative preschool can find information online. Think through and codify your school’s philosophy, expectations, bylaws, staff training, and continuing education. Check state regulations about teacher qualifications, background checks, food rules and sanitation. This level of commitment will seem worthwhile as you find yourself building a stronger and happier family, all while having fun with your child.
Editor’s Note: Linda Rusenovich is a mom and free-lance writer. She and her husband, Tony, were active members of the Elgin Parent Co-op School with their young family.