Sunday, April 17, 2011

For The Low Low Price Of A Conversation

What we sometimes call our "all school executive team" (chairs, treasurers, parent educators, and me) met the other evening to do some planning for an exciting pending change for the Woodland Park community, one I hope to be able to announce here in the next few days. There was necessarily a great deal of discussion about budgets, an aspect of our little preschool that is a source of great pride to me.

Get this, of the 40 some odd schools in the North Seattle Community College cooperative preschool system, only one pays a higher rent than us and our teacher's salary is right at the top as well, rent and salary being by far the most significant expenses in our budget. In spite of this, we have also managed to maintain one of the lowest tuitions, including a pretty nice in-house scholarship fund. Not only that, but we nearly always end each year enough in "the black" to re-invest in our school in the form of classroom improvements, equipment, and other special supplies. How's that for an efficiently run operation?

If I sound like I'm boasting, I am. We've even been able to maintain this during these tough economic times. It's a testament, I believe, to the families who own and operate our school, of course, but also to the cooperative model itself. When the owners, managers, staff, and customers are all the same people, and the profit motive is removed, it stands to reason that together we will find a balance that is as easy on the pocketbook as possible while still delivering a high quality "product" that meets our needs.

And I like to think I have something to do with it as well. As the only paid employee and the guy primarily responsible for acquiring curriculum supplies, I try to approach this part of my job by only looking into those school supply catalogs as a last resort, opting first and foremost to turn to the various skills found in our parent community like construction or sewing or artistic talents to get the things we want or need. I also seek to build a meaningful educational experience from the refuse of other people's lives, both inside and outside of our Woodland Park family. I've written here before about my highly refined bag lady skills, something shared by many of us in the preschool sisterhood, and am always on the lookout for junk like old manufacturing patterns, or shotgun shell casings, or just cardboard boxes that can be put to use.

In fact, I tell people that we can use pretty much anything that comes in large quantities, be they empty yoghurt containers, toilet paper tubes, or scrap lumber. One of my particular talents in acquiring these things is to show up at second hand shops or garage sales, charm the proprietors, tell the story of our little non-profit school, then mention how we would use this or that to make art or drama or whatever. This often leads to deep discounts or even outright donations. Once a customer at a rummage sale overheard me talking about how we would use a light table, purchased it, then turned around and handed it to me, saying simply, "Have fun."

Several years ago I acquired several huge sacks of "sheet magnets" when a gentleman running an estate sale said, "If you can use these, take 'em. They've been in the garage for 10 years and I've never been able to figure out what to do with them." I still have literally thousands of these perfect little magnets cut to the size of mailing labels. We started out by making our own refrigerator magnets by putting stickers on them or gluing things to them, until a couple years ago we discovered, quite by accident, that the white part peels off, revealing a "sticky" side. Magnet on one side, self-adhesive on the other? Oh boy!

We've shaken glitter onto them to make glitter magnets, we've stuck puffballs on them to make puffy magnets. Earlier this year an alumni family, as part of a larger toy donation, gave us a container of geometric craft foam shapes and a sack of the same material representing race cars and trucks. What great fine motor and patterning work we did at the art table last week, peeling and fitting those tiny pieces together.

And it cost nothing but honest friendly conversations with old friends and strangers, something I'd be doing anyway.

I now have my eye on a some bamboo flooring scraps I spotted in the corner of our apartment building's trash room the other day. I see a curriculum planning conversation with Damon, our building's facilities chief, in my future.

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Deborah J Stewart said...

I can't wait to hear what the pending changes are all about! I have learned so much from you and because of you, I am always thinking more carefully about all I do in early childhood education.

Teacher Tom said...

Thank you, Deborah, what a wonderful way to start my day! I feel the same way about you, my blogging sister!

Jeanne Zuech said...

Exciting to hear about changes coming amid a school that - clearly - operates so efficiently and carefully! Thank you for your narrative about "the art of conversation" to supply your school in creative, abundant ways. You are quite a voice in the 'preschool sisterhood'!!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Good post here Teacher Tom,
It is so great that you keep your eyes open for found objects, and materials to use in your preschool.
I think this is in the true spirit of early childhood education in it's roots. It seems these days many of us prefer to shop for expensive items - when really, truly children love recycled things, especially boxes, and actual tools, etc.

Kudos to your parents, cooperatives are great!

It will be interesting to hear about the changes Woodland will be taking.

Strawberry Girl said...

Your terrific! It gladdens my heart to hear of how things are being put to good use to educate our young learners. Thanks for all of the great things that you do! I wish our government could be run with an eye to putting things to good use that we already have rather than, spending more for stuff we don't really need...

Miles Bubbett said...

Teacher Tom,
I'm a student who's just getting my foot in the door of the world of education, and I want to thank you for the post! I think it's amazing how you pull from the surrounding community to create in the classroom. TO be honest I don't think we can comprehend how much that does for the children. How you have explored the resources in the backyard is another thing I think is really great. It's much more innovative and to me, lots of fun. If anything, it's cheaper and different from what everyone else is doing! I hope to learn more about your program and gather ideas from you! Thank you so much for the post!

~Miles Bubbett

Lesley said...

Try asking at hotels & long-term care facilities , places that have reason to order large quantities of matching dishes - this is an excellent source of interesting packing materials. I once got my hands on about 50 cardboard rings of approximately 8 inch diameter, which were used to protect stacked plates during shipping. Also ask around at the local supermarket produce section for apple/pear trays. These make fun "caterpillars", other silly cardboard toys, and sorting trays.
Thanks for such a great blog! Love reading of your adventures.