Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Is Our School

Most preschools, at least to a certain degree, rely on parent participation to make their program run. A cooperative preschool's program is parent participation. Enrolling in Woodland Park is easy on the pocketbook, but being, as it is, a kind of DIY project in which 40+ families work together to make their own school, what one saves in cash one necessarily pays for in elbow grease.

Each year on the Friday and Saturday before school starts the families enrolled in our 3-5 class arrive at school, children left with spouses, grandparents, or sitters, to contribute 2 hours each to the process of getting the school ready. My job is to manage the process, which typically entails working down a list of things I don't want to have to do myself. That's what happened on Friday and we got a lot of cleaning, organizing, and painting done. I reserve the job of fluffing and tidying our main storage room for myself, which, as usual, didn't actually happen because, really, who can stay cooped up in a dark little room when there are so many interesting, intelligent, attractive people out there to chat up? I'd say my chattering proclivities alone probably slow the entire project down by a good 10 percent, but that's part of why a cooperative does things this way, with all hands on deck: to have conversations, to get to know one another in a context of working together, because that's the adventure we're setting out on together this year. These people are not just the parents of our children's classmates, but their teachers and friends as well.

Saturday was a different story. The day started with Charlotte's mom Amanda (who isn't even a 3-5 parent this year) arriving with ten boxes of "lockers" that we would need to assemble and install. This is a big deal for our little school. We've been making do with a row of hooks and a couple of banks of cubbies all jammed into a narrow hallway. It was a functional system, but with our new commitment to outdoor play in a cool, rainy climate, there was a pressing need to make it possible for children to store things like slickers, boots and changes of clothing on the premises, and with all the extra taking-off-and-putting-on that would entail, we felt our little hallway would be far too crowded to accommodate us. Luckily we had nice budget surpluses at the end of last year.

Cora's mom Brooke was the first working parent to arrive and her first job was to unpack all those boxes. It might sound like an easy task, but between the manufacturer's excessive packing techniques, and my bag lady like insistence upon saving as much of it as possible for future use, it was a job that wound up requiring 3 different tools and a good portion of her 2 hour work window.

I know we can find good uses for these, but first I have to figure out where to
store them.

And check out these sturdy, non-recyclable corner
protecting pieces.

They seem to be made out of cardboard strengthened with
some sort of plastic. We also got a nice collection of
styrofoam bricks and squares.

Charlie M.'s mom Liz, Sylvia's mom Toby, and Sasha's dad Rob were next on the scene, and along with Brooke got to work assembling the units. The kits came with most of the hardware we needed, included some of those nifty Allen wrenches (which I also made the parents save for me) and included what appeared to be very clear instructions. Naturally, there was one key piece of information left off of Step 1 that necessitated that the first unit Toby and Liz put together be taken apart and put back together the proper way. And while there was definitely some sweating and cursing (although not at each other), the four of them made an impressive team out there in our narrow hallway, taking down our old hooks (which had been very securely mounted into studs and did not want to come down), and puzzling together the first 5 of the 10 units.

When Orlando's mom Valerie arrived, there just wasn't room for another adult body in there, so I was actually able to put her to work on the job of making name tags.

Unfortunately, just as the parent team was getting good at it, their 2 hours started to expire, and other weekend obligations called them away. Fortunately Rob was able to go above and beyond and keep at it well past his "required" time, working first with Max's mom Callie on the project of locating studs. Amanda, who had no obligation to take part in this project at all, once more arrived on the scene with a stud finder. Making sure to hang these heavy pieces of furniture securely from studs was a high priority, but finding them was a struggle, made difficult by the lathe and plaster construction of the walls. With the prospect of heavy things falling on the heads of young children making this stage of the process vital, we all spent a lot of time discussing, theorizing, knocking on walls, and generally trying to come to a consensus about what the insides of those walls looked like.

It was at about this time, that Lily's dad Gregory showed up. Perfect timing and I knew from experience, he's a guy who knows how to work with his hands. Rob, having already put in far more than 2 hours, was ready to move on, but he stayed long enough to pass on much of the collective learning we'd acquired throughout the morning. As the two men talked through the project together, Callie took over the name tag making from Valerie who had to leave.

Everyone had worked hard up to this point, but when I stepped back and looked at where things stood I had no choice but to start planning for the very real possibility that we had bit off more than we could chew. It was 2:00 p.m., we'd been working since 9:30 a.m., we still hadn't hung a single unit, there were five more that needed to be assembled with those Allen wrenches, and our official end time was 5:00. To top it off, this was the point at which we realized that in spite of the many bags of hardware that had accompanied the lockers, they had not provided screws for actually attaching the things to the walls, which meant sending Gregory to the hardware store, crossing the property line, the curse of any project.

With school starting on Tuesday and my Sunday already booked, I was asking myself, am I competent enough to get the rest of it done on Monday? In any event it would be an all-day project and I had serious doubts I could do it on my own. 

Charlie B.'s dad Jon arrived about this time with his father-in-law's pressure washer. Well, his time was already accounted for, so I couldn't put him to work with Gregory. Okay, I looked at my list of families. Who else can I still expect to show up? When Ruby's dad Chan arrived, I felt a glimmer of hope. Here was another guy who knows how to use tools and it didn't take him long to determine that we were going to need more and better tools than we had at hand. As he headed home for his toolbox -- yet another crossing of the dreaded property line -- I was convinced that I had a long, hard Monday ahead of me.

In the meantime, Violet's mom Cheryl checked in with her friend Kiki, their plan being to handle the family's 2 hour obligation by working together for one hour. I put them to the job of assembling the remaining 5 locker units, making sure to explain the important part of the instructions that were missing. By the time they got to work on the second unit they were laughing so hard, tears were running down their cheeks.

It was about 4 p.m. now. Gregory and Chan had one unit hung and there were still 3 unassembled lockers. Jon had finished the power washing and despite having already been on the premises for 2 hours, asked what else he could do. No way! Just what we needed. He joined the women in getting the lockers assembled. 

By 5 p.m., Gregory already 3 hours into it, and Chan at 2 hours, the hallway lockers were hung. 

Jon, Cheryl and Kiki had all finally left, having finished their assembly jobs, leaving the units in the gym where they were going to be installed. Maybe, maybe, maybe I could hang those final 5 locker units on my own . . .

That's when Chan said, "Hey, we're already on a roll. I'll bet we can get the rest of them up in 20 minutes." No way! All of us called our spouses to make sure we weren't going to be needed for another hour or so, then as I ran to the hardware store -- yet another crossing of the property line -- for more screws, the men put their backs into it.

It took more than 20 minutes, but by 6 p.m. the lockers were up the project having consumed at least 25 parent volunteer hours, lots of sweat, and a little cursing.

On the first day of school, every one of our 46 children will have two cubbies and two hooks to call their own.

This is our school. I love these people.

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Andrea said...

Oh my gosh, they look great! I can't wait for the kids to walk in on the first day and see their new 'lockers'. Charlie B. is going to love having a place to collect all his preschool treasures! Thanks to everyone for all the hard work!

momma rae said...

i am in love with these cubbies! can you please share where you found such treasures? thanks!

Karen said...

Love the new lockers. Wish we had something like this. You are also very lucky to have so many wonderful parents. Oh, those boxes, how about saving them for marble painting, painting with race cars?? I love them.

Teacher Tom said...

@momma rae . . . We purchased them through Early Childhood Manufacturers Direct. You can find them online. I really like doing business with them.

@Karen . . . I know! I think I'm almost as excited about the leftover packaging as I am the lockers!

Anna said...

As a director/teacher of a Cooperative preschool, it makes me so proud! This is what "Cooperation" is all about! What a shining example for their children!

Ms. Erin's HeartRoom said...

Cubbies are so important. It really annoys me that AM and PM have to share cubbies. It makes it hard to store things and keep them safe and super hard to make sure papers go home to the right made a great investment! :)

Marlene said...

Tom, I jump here ALL the time from Deborah Stewart's Teach Preschool Facebook page (Wow, that's a mouthful!), and I love your school! Sadly, my kids' preschool seems to want very little parent participation and is no where near as creative as I would like, but there are few choices where I live. I am so inspired by all you do and am working on a mini spinny-barrel thingy with the old Nesquick can, and we made a waterwall inspired by yours. So much fun! I also LOVED reading your thoughts on the standardized testing and found you articulated a lot of my own feelings so well. I taught high school English for several years before taking a break to be a stay at home mom.

Anyway, I guess this is just a fan note of sorts since I read so much of your stuff. Keep up the amazing work!

Play for Life said...

WOW Tom that is one hell of a great school community you have going on there. If Saturday is any indication of the school year ahead clearly your going to have a ripper!
Donna :) :)
P.S. I don't think I'll ever get used to the fact that you guys start your school year in September!!!

Let the Children Play said...

The lockers look great Tom. And wouldn't those corner bits of cardboard be great for a marble track?!

I'm always envious when I read about the workings of your co-operative model of preschool. It is a struggle for us to get our preschool parents involved, even though we are a parent-run community. They tend to leave it up to the parents at the school to do the lions share of what needs to be done.

I'm sure that is why it seems we never seem to get anything done. So many wonderful ideas, so much research and then we just don't have the hands on deck needed to help us out.

How lucky you are :)

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Obviously, Tom, YOU did NOT go to a preschool where one learns to share or you'd be mailing me half of all that lovely packaging. My fingers are itching to get my hands on it!

Saya said...

That is awesome! Lucky children get to have both cubbies AND both hooks! first I thought they had to share until I saw all of them hanging :) Very nice! Good work, parents!