Is a co-op preschool right for you?



Perks include lower tuition, higher involvement


When my son turned 3 and became eligible to enroll in nursery school, I had no idea which school I should choose. I ended up enrolling my son in the preschool closest to our home, which happened to be the Pleasant Valley Cooperative Nursery School. Wait, I thought, a cooperative nursery school? What did that even mean? 

A cooperative nursery school is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization owned and administered by the parents of the children enrolled. Each family is involved in the operation of the school, which may include attending general membership meetings, volunteering in the classroom, participating in fundraising, and even sitting on the executive board.

Some co-ops even have parents teaching the classes on a rotating basis. Others, like the Pleasant Valley Cooperative Nursery School, employ professional teachers and assistants to develop the curriculum and teach the classes.
“The Pleasant Valley co-op is a school that is run by the parents,” explains school director Lisa Anthony. “Everyone works together with the common goal of making our school the best possible place for our children. Enrolling your child in one of our programs is a wonderful way to enjoy your child’s first educational experience together.” 

The executive board of parents is elected by the general membership, and spearheads all the school’s efforts, including fundraising. Fundraising plays a large role within the cooperative model. Generally, tuition at a cooperative is much lower than at a traditional nursery school. The fundraising offsets the price of tuition, keeping early education much more affordable

Parents who choose a cooperative nursery school may do so for a number of reasons. Some, like myself, may (initially) choose the school based on location. Others choose a co-op because they want to be more involved in their child’s early educational experience. 

“As a working parent, I was worried about how I was going to participate in my son’s preschool experience,” says Christie Alfaro of Pleasant Valley. “I couldn’t drop him off in the morning or pick him up in the afternoon, so I felt that I was not going to be able to witness or view his experience.”
The cooperative model allowed Alfaro the chance to join the school’s executive board and to volunteer at special events.

“I’ve also had the chance to help shape the future direction of the school,” she says. “It’s rare for a parent to be able to provide not only feedback but to affect true changes and improvements. I also really love the idea of supporting an organization that has been a part of our local community for more than 35 years.” 

For mother of two Sophia Skiles, the decision to enroll her kids in Huguenot StreetCooperative Nursery School in New Paltz was fueled by her interest in being part of an intentional community. 

“We were still fairly new to the area, in addition to being new parents, and we wanted to be able to get to know the families of the children our kids were becoming close to,” says Skiles, who is currently the president of the board.

Huguenot Street enlists the expertise of classroom teachers (both of whom are parents of alumni), while the parents of enrolled children rotate as helpers in the classroom daily. 

“Every parent gets a regular opportunity to share the experience of being in class with his or her child,” says Skiles. “It also means that every family joins the teacher in offering perspective on your child. Not only do the children grow up together, it feels like the families do, too.”

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What about families who are unable to volunteer due to an already hectic schedule? The Pleasant Valley Cooperative Nursery School recently began offering a non-cooperative option to accommodate these members of the community. Families who select this option pay a higher tuition rate and do not share in the governance of the school. 

Most participating families find the volunteer aspect of the school to be the most rewarding element. 

Jennifer Giorgi of Poughkeepsie currently has her second child enrolled in the Pleasant Valley Cooperative and her third will be attending in the fall. 

“The best part about the co-op is that I get to volunteer my time and interact with my children as they go through the program,” she says. “Plus, I was able to meet and interact with other parents and their children, too.” 

Skiles says she is amazed at the level of dedication and professionalism in the parents who volunteer, but notes that the half-day experience at Huguenot can be tricky for some if more coverage is needed. 

“There is a real diversity in parenting — both parents work, one stay-at-home parent, single parents. Each family finds a way to make it work,” she says. “Being part of a co-op definitely helps me feel more present in this very fleeting moment in my children's lives.”

Madelaine Hayes lives in Pleasant Valley with husband and her son, Billy.