To me, enrolling my daughter in preschool was never an option. I expected to enroll her when the time came. I just didn’t know how difficult it would be once I started looking at our options. As it turned out, the Southeast Los Angeles area doesn’t have many preschools to choose from. There are city and state run programs strictly designed to get a child “Kindergarten-ready.” If those programs don’t fit your needs, you’re out of luck.
I expanded my search outside the Southeast and found some beautiful preschools that were play-based, outdoors, and focused on social and emotional development. My husband and I quickly came to the realization that if we wanted that experience for our daughter we would have to either move or commute 45 minutes each way to get her there.
When my daughter was born my husband and I had made the conscious decision to stay in the Southeast, near family, and in the community we both grew up and went to school in. My mom lived 10 minutes away, was retired, and eagerly volunteered to watch her granddaughter once I return to work full time. It was largely because of my mom’s assistance that we would be able to provide this preschool experience for our little one. She agreed to work with us and drive her to school when we couldn’t.
Since private school or full-time daycare was too expensive for us, we realized a cooperative school would be the best fit. A cooperative school is less expensive than a private school because family school-assigned jobs and parent workers are expected to offset the operational cost of a full staff. My husband and I did the preschool tours, attended the multi-day visit requirements, filled out applications and questionnaires, and even interviewed. These schools had long wait lists each school year, and we were nervous about making a good impression.
We questioned if we were what they were looking for after it became pretty apparent that these places were not just schools but mini-communities of like-minded parents. These communities revolved around their children’s well being, and the goal of giving these children the best opportunity they were capable of providing. Each school had it’s own philosophy, member handbook, guidelines and educational or developmental objectives. Each preschool was giving these children important tools they’d need to reach their full potential.
Extended a highly sought after membership into a beautiful cooperative responsible for the stewardship of an equally beautiful preschool, we accepted with utter joy. We spent two years taking our little one approximately 17 miles each way to school in LA traffic. We spent two years feeling completely overwhelmed by the duties a cooperative school demands; monthly meetings, bi-monthly parenting education nights, fundraising efforts and events, providing snack every 4-5 weeks, performing our parent job, and attending school with her once a week as a work parent. Within those school gates we shared parenting stories, gave each other support and chatted with excitement about the new neighborhood grocery store opening. My mom even developed her own special relationships with the other caregivers.
We found a safe place to parent and to belong. We spent two years soaking in every experience. Our little one mastered conflict resolution and learned to voice her limits. She evolved into the best friend any kid could wish for, despite the fact that our presence and participation there implied a bit of disconnect. We didn’t live nearby, couldn’t participate in play dates and didn’t visit the same parks and stores. Our city and regional struggles were different, and, as a result, I began thinking about how perfect this would all be if there was a comparable preschool option in our own neighborhood. I knew I couldn’t be the only one with the same wants and needs in my area.
Our daughter is now thriving in Kindergarten. Her teacher has described her as being cooperative, thoughtful, and always willing to help her classmates. I once watched her calm her classmate when he accidentally spilled the entire container of glitter on himself and his table. He was on the verge of tears and panic when she, unruffled, placed her hand on his shoulder and gently told him not to worry, that it was an accident and they could clean it up.
Her little brother enters preschool this Fall, and we can’t wait to return with him in tow to our cooperatively-run preschool. We saw what amazing growth the experience elicited from his sister–and from us, to be honest, so we could never have even dared imagine the remote possibility of depriving him a similar journey.
The preschool experience, as we came to know it, was so invaluable that I now wish all kids had the opportunity to attend. Both children and parents in Southeast Los Angeles have so much to gain from the community experience. I can’t be faulted for refusing to relinquish my ardent hopes for the appearance of preschools like ours nearer to the families, the neighbors and the friends who reside in the neighborhood we call home. I have seen first hand the incredible communities they help develop and hope that Southeast Los Angeles can grow to include these types of oases.
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