Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Our Community

The Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools along with some 40 other cooperatives affiliate with North Seattle Community college for the purpose of receiving parent education and a group rate on insurance, but beyond that it also gives our teachers and parent communities a connection to a larger community of co-op education. The relationship between the preschools and the college is generally a very positive, productive one, but a recent attempt by the parent educators to compel our schools to standardize our enrollment policies has created tensions.

Last week I wrote about my concern that Woodland Park's policy of inclusion was being threatened and last night our 3-5 board met with our parent educator to discuss the issue. I know I'm not the only one who arrived last night expecting a contentious meeting. I won't bore you with the details (although the minutes will shortly be available for the world to see), but I will share that I spent long stretches of the evening welling up with love and joy.

From the moment I arrived at Woodland Park 8 years ago, I began telling myself the story of the kind of community I imagined us to be. I asked parents to think of our school as the neighborhood in which they were choosing to raise their children and to think of the other parents as their trusted neighbors. I had loved my own experience as a co-op parent, had seen my own child thrive in that community, and hoped to be part of creating a similar community in my new role as teacher.

It's the kind of idealistic thinking in which I hope all of us have the opportunity to engage on a daily basis. It's a good thing to feel like you're a part of something trending toward magnificent and life affirming. It's important to have some part of your life in which cynicism has no place. Yet it's also the kind of thing that leaves you wondering at times if it's real or if it's just something you tell yourself is real.

Community, like the emotion of happiness, is one of those phenomena that doesn't stand up well to constant examination. The more we talk about it, the more elusive it becomes. A healthy community exists for the purpose to people doing something together and while talking is a vital part of creating community, talking about the community itself is usually a sign that something is wrong. And while I talk with the parents in our community every day, and while we are constantly engaged in community building activities, I rarely have a conversation about the community itself.

Last night was different. Although I know it was not the intent of the parent educators, although I know that their efforts are designed to enhance the education of the children in the NSCC system, there was clearly a general sense among us that our Woodland Park community was being challenged.

Karl had agreed to chair the meeting and he'd wisely put together an agenda that allowed us to start by addressing the issues about which there was little potential for disagreement. As we worked our way through this agenda, and the topics sparked more passionate discussion, I started hearing parent after parent, in her own words, describe the community that I worried only lived in my own mind. As the meeting progressed, I found myself overwhelmed with the idea that this idealistic community lives in their minds as well.

I fought back tears throughout the entire second half of the meeting and I'm pretty sure I detected the same struggle in others.

(Note: If you have emailed me during the last week and you're wondering why I haven't responded, it's not because I haven't tried. I am receiving most of my email, but Comcast's server has recently been treating all of my "sent" messages as spam. From my end, it looks like the message has gone through as normal, but I've just learned that it's getting stuck in their filter. I've already been on the phone with them twice to no avail. I'm giving them one more day and one more call before switching email providers.)

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Floor Pie said...

I am thrilled to hear that so many co-op parents share your vision. And how refreshing to see parents support a policy of inclusion at a coveted school -- especially with all the citywide bickering that's been going on over the Seattle Public Schools' new assignment plan. Regardless of the outcome, I'm feeling very proud and very lucky to be a part of this community.

Ayn Colsh said...

Teacher Tom,
I am so glad that your community vision is shared by others. I am certainly intrigued by your co-operative preschool program and love hearing about it! It is such a good feeling to know that when you work so hard to make something great, that others share the vision! Keep on keeping on and keep us posted! :)

Thomas said...

My 23 years of marriage is the only thing I'm more proud of than the part I've played in building the Woodland Park community.

Life with Kaishon said...

This made me so happy. I almost cried.

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