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