At 40, parent-run preschool still strong

Steamboat Island Cooperative celebrating rare achievement with Saturday dinner, auction

lpemberton@theolympian.comNovember 26, 2012 

The year was 1972.

“MASH” premiered as a television series, Atari introduced the arcade version of Pong, and the Watergate scandal dominated the news.

That same year, seven South Sound moms — determined to give their youngsters an early start at education — opened a nonprofit preschool between Olympia and Shelton.

“After six weeks of planning, Steamboat Island Cooperative Preschool opened with an enrollment of 27 children in March of 1972,” said Raquel Collins, a parent who is on the school’s board of directors, serving as its historian.

The Steamboat Island Cooperative Preschool is still going strong, and parents at the school are inviting past families to join them in celebrating its 40th anniversary with a dinner and auction Saturday. Some of the school’s founding parents, along with several of those who were instrumental in establishing its permanent location a few years later, will be honored at the event.

It’s a chance for past families to reconnect, celebrate a milestone and help raise money for the school, said parent Kirsten Hansen, who serves on the board and manages the preschool’s publicity.

“I think it’s impressive that any parent-run nonprofit organization can sustain itself for 40 years,” she said.

The preschool serves about 20 students and is affiliated with South Puget Sound Community College’s early childhood education program. Its philosophy is “learn through play,” and many of its lessons are tied to the Northwest’s surroundings. That’s even reflected in the names of its classes — Orcas for ages 4-5, Otters for ages 3-4, and Chipmunks for ages 2-3.

The school’s teacher is the only one paid, so parents work on committees to make sure the rest of the work gets done, and those tasks include a range of things such as health and safety officer and newsletter coordinator.

During its first few years, the preschool’s classes were held in a portable at Griffin School and then in a building on the Kelly Country farm, Collins said. An anonymous donor gave the school a vacant house, and the Kelly family donated an acre of land for a permanent location.

“Parents of the school started correspondences with the U.S. Army requesting their help in moving the building,” Collins said. “The Army agreed to help and transported the building to the location it is today.”

Joyce Linn of Rochester recalled working long hours with her husband, Allen, and others to sell hundreds of flocked Christmas trees that helped raise money to refurbish the permanent school.

“We were a partnership,” she said.

Once the building was moved, it took nearly 31/2 years to finish site work and the school’s overhaul, Collins said.

Just like in the beginning, the preschool’s parents run the nonprofit, but they also spend time working alongside the teacher in the classroom. Money from Saturday’s dinner and auction will be used to cover a portion of the school’s operating expenses, which include the teacher’s salary, Hansen said. The school soon will need a new roof, she added.

Linn said she’s looking forward to the dinner, and she described her son Earl’s preschool years as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

“You got to see your child’s strengths and weaknesses. I was able to realize how unique each child is,” she said. “I got to meet some wonderful people in the community. … A lot of the people I know 35 years later was a direct result of the preschool.”

If you go

Steamboat Island Cooperative Preschool will host its 40th anniversary celebration dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at Griffin School, 6530 33rd Ave. NW, Olympia. The event will include dinner, music, a slide show, a silent auction, a raffle and children’s activities. Tickets cost $15, or $10 for children and alumni. For more information, call 360-866-1819.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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