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Preschool co-op celebrates big birthday

Dylan McRae and his mother, Kris, enjoy song time together at the South Whidbey Co-op Preschool. - Spencer Webster / The Record
Dylan McRae and his mother, Kris, enjoy song time together at the South Whidbey Co-op Preschool.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

LANGLEY — It was a South End institution was born out of necessity. Two moms who had recently moved to South Whidbey needed a place for their kids to be safe and learn while they took care of other business.

That was 40 years ago.

This weekend, the South Whidbey Co-op Preschool celebrates its 40th birthday with a reunion of supporters and alumni from the past four decades.

Dotti Fickel is one of the founders of the preschool. Along with another mother, Nancy Skarberg, she organized the first preschool session on the island’s South End.

“There was no preschool on South Whidbey,” she said. “We also became the first all-day kindergarten.”

It became clear very quickly that Fickel and Skarberg weren’t alone in their need for responsible childcare.

“There were 18 children that first year,” Fickel recalled.

Fickel remembered how she and other parents cleaned out a room at St. Hubert Catholic Church in Langley on a Friday night to have it ready for school Monday morning. The work session started a bond that has continued for more than a generation.

Most of the kids that met at the preschool on that Monday morning continued their education together throughout primary, middle and high school.

“Some of the friendships that the kids made are still going. The friendships I made with the other women were so rewarding,” Fickel said.

In times of declining enrollment in South Whidbey schools, the co-op preschool is still going strong today. Since its humble beginnings in Langley, the preschool has been growing and enrollment rises steadily, school organizers said.

“I am so thrilled it’s still going,” Fickel said.

Another thing that makes her proud is that some of the children who started out at the preschool now have their own children enrolled at the school. George Henny was a student and now his son is attending, for example.

“That’s second generation,” Fickel added.

The preschool’s birthday party will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 1 at Clinton Community Hall.

There will be an art show by preschool students, a silent auction with items from local businesses such as Second Street Wine Shop and Whidbey Coffee as well as coffee, dessert and entertainment. The entire community is welcome to participate.

Kris McRea, the chairwoman of the pre-school, said she is proud of what the preschool has accomplished over the years.

“It’s amazing how many people it has touched,” McRea said. “It’s reunion of sorts, a celebration of the co-op’s involvement and influence in the community.”

She added that the school is a great environment for her kids and the choice was easy for her.

“It was important for me to be involved in my children’s education,” she said.

Parents are involved, indeed. They volunteer as assistant teachers in the classroom and also serve on boards and committees and help run the preschool.

“I’m really involved in the nuts and bolts of my kids’ school,” McRea said. “It created a sense of volunteerism.”

But she also feels her children are the best hands when they are at the preschool.

“If it’s not your turn to work, you trust the parents they’re with,” she said. “Co-opping builds a common bond.”

The co-op also provides parent education classes that teach subjects such as conflict resolution, how to create a balance in parenting, raising a confident child and other topics.

The co-op offers programs for children from 18 months to 5. It’s a nonprofit organization associated with the Skagit Valley College Family Life Education Department. Kids attend classes two or three days a week depending on age.

For more information, call 221-5080 or visit the Web site at www.southwhidbeycooppreschool.org.

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