|Seattle's Progressive Preschool emphasizes diversity, environmental learning, and social awareness. Their goal is to prepare young children for educational success, and guide them to become thoughtful, proactive adults who believe that they can make the world a fairer and greener home for everyone.
SPP was founded in the fall of 2009 by two Seattle parents, Derek Stanley and Cynthia Rowand.
Derek and Cynthia wanted to create a cooperative early childhood education experience that embraced the full spectrum of social and environmental issues that fall under the progressive umbrella.
Children of a very young age have an inherent sense of what is fair. SPP's curriculum strives to nurture that nascent ability and to teach children how to be generous and kind citizens. SPP families work with their teacher to select and implement service themes that teach their children to care for and improve their community. From SPP's choice of toys, to their selected service activities and their location on bus lines, the school strives to make every decision consistent with good environmental stewardship and social justice.
At this point Derek and Cynthia's children are well into elementary school, so they are busy as involved parents there. SPP does reach out to them on occasion with questions about history or vision, to make sure they are taking the school's roots into consideration.
Rather than focusing on one central issue, the SPP model allows members of the co-op to bring issues that are relevant to their families directly into the classroom. The personalization of the school's curriculum is aimed at helping families of varying backgrounds understand one another and invigorate the program each year with fresh energy.
SPP offers the following classes:
- Samaras (1 year olds) 1 or 2 afternoons per week
- Sprouts (2 year olds) 2 mornings per week
- Seedlings (3 and 4 year olds) 3 mornings per week
The Samaras class is new for SPP this year. A local infant and 1-2s program had recently closed to much dismay of the Seattle community, and SPP saw an opportunity to support the families who were hoping to both form community for their families and learn more about parenting by welcoming those families into their co-op.
A program for one year olds that meets late in the day (4:15pm - 5:30pm) is unusual, but it seems to be working. The youngest class shares space with the oldest class, which meets earlier in the day. The late afternoon time allows time to set up the classroom for the younger kids and also accommodates afternoon nap times. SPP has found that these new and young families are very engaged in both the classroom and the co-op, and they have hit the ground running in forming positive and trusting relationships amongst the adults and children.
Seattle's Progressive Preschool is located in the MLK FAME Community Center housed in an old elementary school. SPP has a dedicated classroom, complete with assigned lockers in the hall for the kids. The other tenants in the Center often welcome SPP students for "field trips" - sculptors, steel drum players, Wee-bop jazz, and more. The Center is a vibrant place where there is always something happening.
Outdoors there is a shared play structure, which the Sprouts and Seedlings classes use daily. The play structure is located next to a huge garden, which grows edibles year round. SPP has plots they maintain as part of their
Environmental stewardship drives many of SPP's choices, including purchases, proximity to transit, and service activities. Urban agriculture will continue to be a focus via a p-patch alliance that encompasses educational garden tours, planting, upkeep, and generating compost for the garden.
SPP supports a diverse classroom in terms of economics, culture, and family structure. They reserve slots and financial aid for those with limited means. They strive to maintain a culturally competent school and emphasize anti-bias lessons in their curriculum. SPP welcomes all families, whether they be headed by single parents, same-sex couples, or kinship care guardians.
SPP offers a generous financial aid package while at the same time keeping their tuition affordable. Their
budget has a large focus on fundraising and keeping costs low. They encourage members of the co-op to find used items on buy-nothing groups, and the purchaser looks for ways to buy used items. This approach is consistent with their missions of protecting the environment and making co-op available to families of all socio-economic backgrounds.
Seattle's Progressive Preschool is affiliated with Seattle Central Community College. Through this relationship, which is common among Washington cooperatives, f
amilies benefit from mentoring and instruction by experts in child development and parenting. As part of this affiliation, tuition includes monthly parent education, with families choosing the topics most relevant to them.
As a small school, SPP's primary parent educators are able to directly reach each parent for group as well as individual meetings. The school has a primary parent educator through Seattle Central College who presents to the whole school and attends the Sprouts and Seedlings classes, and they hired an additional parent educator
this year to support the in-class time with the Samaras.
This year, SPP's parent educators are using
(an online communications service) so that parents can ask real-time questions more easily. (Note that Slack has special pricing for non-profits and educational institutions.)
Attracting New Families
SPP's best method of encouraging enrollment is through word of mouth and personal contact. Many families come to the school on recommendation of alumni or current families. The school also supports local groups like Families of Color Seattle as well as gettin
g their name out through being active in community events and initiatives.
Many thanks to Sara McElroy, Chair of Seattle's Progressive Preschool, for her huge contribution to this article!