South Whidbey Co-op Preschool to hold benefit

Kayla Shorey, 2, looks to a parent helper during a productive day at South Whidbey Cooperative Preschool.   - Patricia Duff / The Record
Kayla Shorey, 2, looks to a parent helper during a productive day at South Whidbey Cooperative Preschool.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

A wise parent once said you can’t tell your children to reach for the stars if you don’t reach for them yourself.

For 41 years, South Whidbey Cooperative Preschool has been inviting parents to join their very young children in learning how to reach for the stars.

The mission of the preschool is to provide a developmentally appropriate program in a nurturing, loving, safe and stimulating environment in which parental involvement enriches the learning process.

But if the legendary reports of the co-op’s parents and students are true, the school’s impact has been greater even than the success of its mission.

In the time the school has been open, countless bonds have been formed between students and teachers, parents and their children, and between families who have treasured the friendships that grew out of the cooperative experience and remained strong ever after through thick and thin. In its time, the co-op has served more than 1,000 families.

Terri Hawkins had two children finish the program, but found herself still hanging around. She is currently the co-chairwoman of the school’s board of directors made up mainly of alumni who show an extraordinary respect and loyalty toward the school.

“These are my friends and will always be my friends,” Hawkins said.

Similar dedication is shown by South Whidbey High School sophomore Jennifer Zisette. Zisette, who started her education at the co-op, wrote a letter to the community recently as an advocate for the school, which is in need of financial help. In her letter of appeal, Zisette wrote that although she attended preschool more than

11 years ago, the co-op still has a strong impact on her life and that she wanted to see it continue to do so for other families.

Zisette has organized a group of performers to provide entertainment for a benefit to be held at Whidbey Children’s Theater in Langley.

At both 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, the teachers, parent educators, students, families and alumni of the school invite the community to join them in their cause to keep the cooperative solvent with two shows and a silent-auction event.

This past year, the nonprofit co-op has handed out more scholarships than ever before. The school’s budget has been stretched to its limit, and if it is to stay open for the rest of the year, it needs to raise about $7,000.

The South Whidbey Cooperative Preschool is a nonprofit program affiliated with Skagit Valley College. But the college only pays for the part-time salaries of Mully Mullally and Jennifer Zisette’s mom, Michele Zisette, who are the school’s parent educators.

Children ages 18 months through 5 attend classes two or three days per week with teachers Julia Sewell and Michelle Papritz. Parents participate in the classroom and manage the business of the co-op. And through an early childhood program called the HighScope curriculum, children develop skills which prepare them for school, while parents learn how to be effective teachers of their children in their own right.

A visit to the school, which occupies a building on Maxwelton Road in Langley behind the former primary school building, reveals a well-organized room full of activity stations for preschoolers run by people passionate about what they do.

“This fundraiser is a chance for us to introduce the cooperative to the community,” Mullally said.

“Our goal is to do a good job with the families we have, to effect their lives in a positive way and to have respect in the community regarding childhood education.”

The idea behind the curriculum, which has been around since the ’60s, is that children and adults learn best through hands-on experiences with people, materials, events and ideas. That principle — validated by decades of research — is the basis of HighScope’s approach to teaching and learning.

Michele Zisette has seen the effects of the program first-hand.

“If you talk to the parents of children who have been through it, it really affects their whole life. It’s something they carry with them,” Zisette said.

Teacher Papritz, also a parent, knows the value of learning how to connect with children.

“The challenges that come with parenting are huge,” Papritz said.

“Having a program that comes with parenting education built into it is a big help,” she said.

But the school comes with more than benefits in education for parents and their children, and the promise of lasting relationships in the community.

As a nonprofit, the preschool strives to maintain its responsibility to families who need scholarships to attend. It’s been a responsibility the school has always been able to take on — until this year.

Besides the income derived from tuition, the school survives solely on grants from local service organizations and businesses, and from fundraising. But the sagging economy has taken its toll.

That’s where the fundraiser comes in.

“If we could raise at least $5,000, it would be fabulous,” Michele Zisette said.

Thanks to her enterprising daughter, the school will present a number of entertaining acts in the hope of raising those crucial funds.

Included in the two shows are flutist Joe Arnold; Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews, piano; the band Sweetwater Revival; the Co-op Grannies (founding members singing); ballerina Raelani McLean Kesler; Susan Milan and several of her students singing; and many other co-op almuni, family and friends.

“This whole organizing of the fundraiser has been fun,” Zisette said.

“The alumni have been so willing to help. They said, ‘I can help. I can sing and dance. What do you need?’ So there’ll be a number of grandmothers there singing. It’ll just be a great experience.”

The children-oriented show, with pre-show face painting, is at 2 p.m., and the adult/all family show is 7:30 p.m.

Tickets at the door are $10 for the 2 p.m. show and $15 for the 7:30 p.m. show. Family rates are available.

Those who can’t attend but want to help can send a donation to P.O. Box 713, Langley, WA 98260. For more information, click here.

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