Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool, Part 1: “A Brief History of OCP”

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Nov 152015

OCP turns 10 this year! To commemorate that milestone, let’s take a look back…

Early Days in L LeDuc's basement

Early Days in L LeDuc’s basement

The Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool began as a drop-off playgroup with six children – Eleanor, Conrad, Poppi, Connor, Gaia, and Noah – who met at a different home each week with two parents assigned as the caregivers on a rotating basis. So four of the parents would get a few hours to themselves, and the six children would have some time to socialize with their young peers. Frustrated with a lack of quality preschools in the Decatur area at the time, these families shared a desire to create a new educational environment for their young children, based heavily on parental involvement.

The idea of turning this playgroup into a cooperative preschool was spearheaded by parent Laura LeDuc. Laura was trained as an attorney and was undaunted by the legal paperwork, creation of policies, and drafting of bylaws; she became OCP’s founding president. Michelle Davis-Watts tackled the research and creation of the curriculum guidelines. Paul McClendon had demonstrated an interest in developing activities for the children and engaging them with thoughtful and deliberate interactions, so he was asked to take on the role as the first teacher (he currently serves on OCP’s Advisory Council). Laura offered the finished basement of her home as an indoor classroom, and Stephanie Van Parys offered the Oakhurst Community Garden as an outdoor classroom. The other parents volunteered to serve on the founding board of directors and accepted key leadership roles. Two additional playgroups were formed. We were off and running. In the summer of 2005, the Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool was officially incorporated and recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Early Days at Oakhurst Garden with first teacher Paul McClendon

Early Days at Oakhurst Garden

The initial group’s early research into preschools confirmed their desire to create a cooperative educational setting, in which parents would participate in every aspect of the school’s operation: governance, finance, administration, assisting in classrooms, publicity, fundraising, maintenance, and housekeeping. It was decided the school should maintain a low teacher-to-child ratio, which along with parent involvement would help to foster an environment in which children feel secure. Security, we knew, was essential for developing sense of self, ability to relate to others, and capacity to express feelings – the building blocks of learning.

Farm Team

Farm Team

Fall 2005 launched OCP’s inaugural school year, with the first officially enrolled students coming from those three original playgroups. We moved into a rented space in the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany’s nursery, which was not in use during the week. We hired teacher Kate Reese to lead the “Twos” class, a group of 12 children who met on alternating mornings (not all simultaneously). Paul McClendon agreed to teach what we affectionately called the “Farm Team,” a class of six children turning two (“the Ones”). The 18 member families threw their collective skills and energies into the school – a true labor of love – and OCP blossomed rapidly during that first year. Many of the traditions that we proudly carry on to this day were conceived that year, including Harvest and Festivus. The board worked diligently to implement a curriculum based on OCP’s core philosophy: that young children learn primarily through play, where they can freely and actively explore their surroundings and construct their own knowledge, enhanced by a close connection to nature and a secure environment (the “nido”). By fall of 2006, OCP had enrolled enough students to rent three upstairs classrooms and hire three more teachers – thus inaugurating the Chickadees, Wrens, and Sparrows classes (these bird names winning out over Cedar Waxwings and Blue-Faced Boobies!).

First Fall Harvest Celebration

First Fall Harvest Celebration

In 2008, OCP officially hired Betty Wood as our first (and only) director; Betty had been instrumental “behind the scenes” since OCP’s founding, as an invaluable resource to the board during the first year and subsequently serving in an advisory role. Having grown out of the shared space at Epiphany, OCP underwent an exhaustive search for a new home, led by Meredith Struby and Michelle Krahe, among others, which in fall of 2011 brought us to our current building on W. College Avenue in Oakhurst that we lease from Thankful Missionary Baptist Church. That year, OCP designed and constructed our beloved play garden, dedicated in February 2012, transforming a barren outdoor area into one of the highlights of every OCP child’s day. Today OCP has grown to a membership of ±60 students and families in eight classes (two Chickadees classes, two Wrens classes, two Sparrows classes, Owls, and Larks) with a staff of six teachers and a director, in addition to a summer camp and after-school enrichment program. We continue to be run entirely by parent volunteers and strive to remain true to the original mission and values established by our founders, while evolving with the needs and talents of the current membership.

02 28 06 OCP bear hunt-2In the words of one of our alumni parents from OCP’s first years, “It has been a privilege to be a part of OCP as it has grown and flourished into the very special preschool community that it continues to be today – 10 years later! We are so happy that our family evolved within the nurturing and supportive OCP community, and we are thrilled that other families are able to experience the wonder that is OCP, 10 years after we started there. As a family, weare still very connected with our OCP friends, and it is always nice to meet other OCP families, whether past or present.” [Stephanie Roach]

In another founding parent’s perspective, “We owe so much to our OCP family. Back in 2005, we didn’t really know what we were doing. It’s hard to believe that OCP is in the double-digits! We were a set of like-minded parents, desperately wanting the very best for our children, all the while realizing that we were ill-equipped to deliver on those terms all by ourselves. Collectively and cooperatively, we shared the joys and pains of parenthood, and grew into something far greater than a preschool: we became, and still remain in our hearts, a family. Born out of that love and those values, I can see my children’s children attending OCP one day. I look forward to ‘grandparent-teacher days.’” [Marlyne Israelian]

Stay Tuned…In Part 2 of this blog, we will get to know some of those first OCP kids and find out where they are now!

[Credits: We are grateful to alums Paul McClendon, Laura LeDuc, Marlyne Israelian, and Stephanie Roach, who contributed to the above.]

Getting to Know the OCP Staff

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Oct 112015
The teachers at OCP are many things—facilitators, co-explorers, models, guides. With their young students—our young children—they take to heart the idea that “the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” We think of our staff at OCP as our best resource, while our kids think of them as grown-ups to play with, learn with, trust, love, and grow with. Take a few minutes to get to know Ms. Betty, Ms. Tova, Ms. CJ, Ms. Michelle, Ms. Susan, and Ms. Margie.

Betty Wood,
What is your OCP story?

While working as director of Inman Park Cooperative Preschool, I consulted with [OCP founders] Laura LeDuke and Michelle Davis-Watts about creating OCP. They continued to consult with me as they founded OCP in 2005. Having been on OCP’s Advisory Council and resigning from IPCP, I was invited to interview for director of OCP in March of 2008. Since I had experienced best practices and challenges at IPCP, I wanted to ensure that OCP and I were a good fit. When offered the position, I expected to begin work in August. The OCP board invited me to begin working with them in April and May to orient me to OCP and hire teachers for the 2008-09 school year.  It was definitely a good fit.

What is one thing you’re excited to explore with your kids this year?

The teachers and I have noticed that most of the children enrolled at OCP this year seem to have well-developed interpersonal skills. They are naturally kind and caring. I am excited about working with the teachers and parents in helping the children find the language to clearly express their emotions and communicate effectively with their peers. We already see many friendships forming. Hopefully this year will give the children a strong foundation for creating and strengthening friendships throughout their lives.

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?

I appreciate our nature-based curriculum. Spending time outdoors is naturally healing and grounding for children and adults. Some of the child’s first experiences are in nature with their parents. The child is curious in exploring nature and learning about their world. Our curriculum supports the child’s exploration and confirms their confidence in the world around them. Bonds established in nature are deeper and more enduring.

Tova Johnson, Chickadees (Younger 2’s)
What is your OCP story?kaymbu-image-20151010-1550(1)

I wanted to teach again, but it needed to be a very special place. OCP is an inspiration on so many levels, and the search for inspiration truly led me here! A simple online search led to an interview, and that led to being the Chickadee teacher.

What is one thing you are excited to explore with your kids this year?

I am excited to explore the spontaneity within the plans! Chickadees will tell you what is on their mind in very interesting ways. So being alert to the little phrases or the looks of wonder or the discoveries they make along the way is what I am excited to catch wind of and infuse into the planned learning!

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?

I love how OCP follows nature and her seasons for curriculum inspiration. That is definitely one of my favorite aspects of OCP’S curriculum, but there are so many!

CJ Evans, Wrens (Older 2’s)
What is your OCP story?

[Larks teacher] Margie Ashe has been one of my best friends for years. When she started teaching at OCP a few years ago, I thought she had found the perfect job. For a mom of elementary-age kids, the location and hours were ideal, and she always spoke so highly of the OCP community and culture. The following year, when Margie moved to the Larks class, the Wrens teaching job opened up, and I was so excited to apply for the job. OCP has lived up to its reputation. I really enjoy teaching the Wrens class and being surrounded by such fantastic people.

What is one thing you’re excited to explore with your kids this year?

I’m most excited for the fall and our Harvest festival. We just did a planting this week, so the kids are very enthusiastic about tending our garden. They have been watering the plants and seeds diligently. It will be so fun to see the plants grow and harvest them with the children in November! To prepare for the festival, we will work together to wash and chop the vegetables and make soup. I love being with the children through this process and helping them see what they are capable of doing.

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?   

The thing that I enjoy hearing the most from the children is “I did it!” Their faces are filled with such joy when they are able to accomplish difficult tasks, such as zipping their coat, putting on their shoes, or preparing banana bread for snack. The children are included in all of our daily tasks, and our focus is on the process instead of the end result. This allows the children to try hard things and to grow in confidence as they are able to do more for themselves and each other as we go through the year.

Michelle Bennett, Owls (3’s)
What is your OCP story?

I was working with Betty at Inman Park Co-op, and when OCP decided to start a pre-k program, I came and presented my ideas. They liked it, so I joined the staff in 2007 as the first pre-k (Larks) teacher. I left OCP for a time when my son, Jackson, was born. We came back in 2012 as a co-op family, and Jackson started as a Wren. During his three years at OCP, I subbed frequently, including some long-term subbing. I knew I always wanted to return to teaching, and this year the timing was right!

What is one thing you are excited to explore with your kids this year?

In my class of eight boys, I will be exploring conscious discipline, helping my kids become more assertive and use their “big boy” voices with their friends in the classroom.

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?

My favorite part of OCP’s curriculum is the idea that process is more important than product. We explore this in many ways in our classroom activities, but it also extends into daily life. I love that the kids are able to live in their own world at OCP, and don’t have to fit into our grown-up world like they do outside of school. We recently did splatter painting in class, and I documented the technique we used to splatter the paint. But then they had the freedom to play in the paint afterward and smear it on their paper, so it didn’t end up looking like a splatter painting. The point wasn’t the final product, but the process and fun we had getting there.

Susan Diamond, Sparrows (3’s)
kaymbu-image-20151010-1551(1)What is your OCP story?

Betty brought me to OCP. I first got to know her when she was the director of my daughter’s preschool, Inman Park Cooperative Preschool, and then I started working with her at Inman Park. When she came to OCP, I decided to join her.

What is one thing you are excited to explore with your kids this year?

This year I would like to focus on the natural world around us here in Georgia. We will learn about trees, the forest, and the creatures who make it their home.

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?

The aspect of our curriculum that is most important to me is right there in the name, cooperative. My daughter went to a cooperative preschool and I loved that the small size of the school and the parental involvement meant that she became familiar with the other teachers and the parents of her schoolmates as well as the other children. The presence of the parents truly creates a warm and safe community, which is a wonderful step into the wider world for children who have, until that time, been used to the small community of their family.

Margie Ashe, Larks (4’s)
What is your OCP story?

kaymbu-image-20151010-1551I came to OCP as a parent in 2006. We had just moved to Decatur from Cobb County and were so happy to find a like-minded community. I assumed the experience would be primarily for my daughter, but I wound up learning so much here as a parent and as a teacher. Lillian, now in middle school, is still close to many of the friends she made at OCP.

What is one thing you’re excited to explore with your kids this year?

I’ve spent the summer reading about making picture books with young children. My goal is for the Larks to see themselves as writers, even if their books only contain illustrations. Just because a child isn’t ready to transcribe a story doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of creating a story and thinking deeply about the craft of writing.

What is one of your favorite aspects of OCP’s curriculum, and why is it important to you?

I really appreciate our emphasis on process over end product. Making cute crafts that all look the same would not be very fulfilling. I’ve always been inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, where the curriculum and projects emerge from the children’s interests. What makes my job as the Larks teacher fun and challenging is finding ways to implement the pre-K standards into our child-led curriculum.

What’s New OCP?

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Aug 172015

Written by Kelly Miller


It’s hard to believe, but in a few short weeks we’ll be returning to OCP for a new school year. We’ll exchange stories of travel and adventure from the summer. We’ll notice how everyone has grown over the last few months. We may even go into the wrong classroom on the first day. It’ll be fun to see all the smiling faces and unique personalities come together in new ways, building friendships as we change classes, volunteering with different committees and sharing workdays with families we may have only seen in the hall. We might even miss a friend or two that’s graduated and moved on to kindergarten. As we look forward to these exciting days ahead, some of you might wonder what’s been going on at OCP.

Well, we started the summer off with the latest edition of our newsletter. From the Nest 2014-2015 made its debut in the beginning of the summer. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. We also hired a new teacher assistant for the Lark’s class, Melissa Bower. Let’s give her a big warm OCP welcome!

We’ve been very busy over the last few months with exciting camp sessions. A big thanks to our wonderful camp director, the creative teachers, and all the parent volunteers that made camp so special. The different themed weeks were filled with creative, hands on activities. The classes pretended to camp indoors and roast marshmallows over a fire. One week, there was a dinosaur dig and the next, there was a robot built from cardboard and recycled materials. During green invention week, campers created a marble run. And during farm to table week, classes made bread from scratch. Regardless of theme, the campers shared experiences and discoveries while having a blast. They played outside, created a slip n’ slide and enjoyed towering vegetables in the garden that were planted in the spring. New and old friends came together over the summer as a reminder of what we share during the year at OCP.

Making a robot

Towering sunflowers

With camp coming to a close, we’re reminded school is quickly approaching. So we’re back at it, getting OCP ready for the big first day of the 2105/16 school year. OCP families are coming together to make yet another wonderful year. We have teacher home visits, classroom visits and play dates coming up, which means numerous opportunities for families to become familiar with our teachers and classmates. We’ll have a parent mixer the week before school starts, so go ahead and book babysitters. And of course, orientation day followed by a playgarden picnic.

It’s exciting to have so much on the horizon. Looking forward, we have the start of a new school year. The change of the seasons is approaching as summer slips away, the days getting a little shorter. Maybe you’ve noticed a few leaves falling already or turning yellow? September brings the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend. Volunteers will be participating in reading activities with children and sharing our experiences from OCP. Don’t forget, we start day trips to the Wylde Center and the Fall Hootenanny in October. So when we ask, “What’s New OCP?” The answer is, there’s always something new happening at OCP.

Presently, we’re all grateful and eager to share new experiences with such wonderful families and friends. Here’s to remembering the special moments we’ve shared and celebrating the adventures yet to come.

We Appreciate our OCP Teachers!

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May 282015

by Erynn Mathews-Davis

People in the United States started celebrating Teacher Appreciation Day in 1953 when Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Congress to set aside a day to recognize educators. The origins of the idea are unclear, but it is rumored that a teacher wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, urging her to take up the cause.

It didn’t become a national day until March 7, 1980 after lobbing by the National Educational Association (NEA) and other state affiliates. In 1984 the NEA designated the first full week of May National Teacher Appreciation Week, and Tuesday of that week National Teacher Appreciation Day!

At OCP we celebrate our Teachers with class gifts, a staff luncheon, a meal train for each teacher (a favorite), sweet notes, and gifts created by the children. As a community we enjoy coming together to acknowledge the amazing gifts and talents our OCP Teachers offer our children.

We love our OCP teachers!

The Chickadees and Ms. Tova make music together!

Ms. Susan reads a book with her Sparrows

Ms. Michelle helping an Owl across the finish line on Transportation Day










Ms. Margie congratulating some of her Larks after the Tot Trot!

Ms. CJ listening intently to some serious thoughts from a Wren

Happy Earth Day and Welcome Spring!

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Apr 222015

By Amy Gearheard

Spring brings so many fresh new beginnings. There are many opportunities to explore, get outside, and learn about our natural world. One of the ways we celebrate Spring at OCP is the second field trip to the Wylde Center. Each classroom gets to spend the whole school day learning and playing outside – and visiting the chickens of course! The field trips to the Wylde Center are always a favorite day for kids and parents alike.

Spring is happening in the classroom and in our play garden as well. Our play garden offers a wonderful opportunity to teach the kids about where some of our foods come from. They get to see how fun it can be to sow, tend, and grow plants. And who doesn’t like to get a little dirty sometimes? The Green Committee has been hard at work planning the OCP community beds for the Spring and Summer months. Each classroom gets to help as well. Over the next few weeks, the kids will plant seeds inside for the play garden beds. The Larks, Sparrows & Owls will be creating milk jug greenhouses for tomatoes & basil. The Chickadees & Wrens will be sowing beans for the bamboo poles that frame the community beds. The beds will also contain herbs, wild flowers and lettuces.

We are especially excited to announce that OCP will be donating a Garden Loom (or Earth Loom) to the Wylde Center in honor of Earth Day 2015! The loom has been generously constructed by Ben Monroe, one of our own Lark dads, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. A Garden Loom is a collective, interactive, and beautiful art project that will have a permanent home in the Children’s Area of the Wylde Center’s Oakhurst Garden after spending this “Earth Week” in OCP’s play garden. The Garden Loom is a representation of OCP’s green values and community-building efforts, as well as our longstanding partnership with the Wylde Center and Oakhurst neighborhood. In the hands-on experience of weaving a Garden Loom, a community comes together using natural materials found around the garden (flowers, grasses, branches, etc.) and fibers like cloth and wool to create a seasonal canvas: a continually evolving picture of how we relate to each other and our planet.  We can’t wait to see the “living weaving” our OCP kids, teachers, and members create this week!

Happy Spring! Merry Planting!