VERYONE LOVES COOPERATING – It doesn’t get any better than this, whether you are child or parent. Just another day of sharing and learning together at the La Conner Co-op Preschool. – Photo courtesy of La Conner Co-op Preschool
The greatest co-op ever seems to be the La Conner Co-op Preschool. Lori Buher’s sentiment was shared by every person asked to comment. “One of the most important parts for me and a lot of the moms was the friendships we developed among ourselves and the support we gave each other. It was nice to have other people to talk to about raising your kids. We made lifelong friendships and it’s the same with the kids: a lot of lifelong friendships.” Buher’s three children attend-ed between 1987 and 1994, but her enthusiasm for the Co-op Preschool remains fresh. The preschool had been operating for a couple of years by then. Like all co-ops, this one is member-driven, meeting a need the mainstream economy could not fulfill. “The impetus came from parents in La Conner. It was affordable; it was subsidized by the College,” Buher recalls. That “subsidy” was in the form of faculty from Skagit Valley College’s Early Childhood Education program offering advice and providing a once a month parent educator teacher class meeting for all co-op parents. Every parent is required to enroll in a one credit class. Teacher Debbie Thulen explained, “We are under the umbrella of the early childhood and family life early childhood education program. Parents take college classes. Their monthly volunteer hours are lab time and their monthly meeting is class time.” The College covers liability insurance for the co-op. The parents dovetail a regular business meeting the same night. As a small co-op, the parents are responsible for every aspect, from classroom volunteering to sterilizing toys. Buher recalled “There was a business meeting at the monthly meeting: we would go over everything: fund-raising, the budget, whatever was going on at that time. It gave everyone a chance to be involved, whether it was elections or planning fundraisers.” This co-op is actually a non-profit organization. The parents do not own equity in it. Still, there is a board with a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. Katie Wigal was president from 2011-13, when both of her children were in preschool. She remembers it as “awesome. I learned a lot about leadership, delegation, handling people in all situations, whether helping families get resources or dealing with someone who is very unpleasant, or sticking up for the co-op.” The experience made her a stronger person she says. Wiegal reflected: “It is really hard work; without the families, there is no co-op. But the nice thing is that it is run by the families so the families cooperatively make decisions; the families together get to decide.” Tim and Kim Goodman have two children enrolled. Tim noted the difference between private preschools, with parents dropping off and picking up their children, and the co-op. It is important to him that “kids are getting parental influence” and that daily participation is by different people from all walks of life, from artists to fishermen to farmers to dental assistants. Kim Goodman is a paid “director,” assisting the teacher, fulfilling the requirement of two teachers per classroom. Here a parent is the classroom aid. She echoes her peers’ sentiments, that there are a “lot of parents helping parents. That’s my favorite thing to see,” she said. That mutual support extends to the La Conner school district. Former superintendent Tim Bruce agreed to house the preschool on campus when they needed a new home. Thulen summed it up, saying, “It’s a really good community partnership among parents, the school district and the college. Goodman, wearing her mar-keting hat, insisted on plugging the fall fundraiser: selling potatoes. “If the community wants to support the co-op, buy some potatoes from a member.” Pioneer Potatoes makes an annual donation. All parents are selling five pound bags and 50 pound boxes. The Co-op gets 100 percent of the proceeds. Is there anything more Skagit Valley than that? Or, as Goodman enthused, “A lot of parents are just there; like a little family. Kind of like finding your tribe. It takes a village. So many different people, so much knowledge. We pass around different information. There’s support from everybody.” Sounds like the La Conner folks want to create.