The 1960s were a whole different time. It was the height of the Woodstock music festival, bell-bottom jeans and neon flowers. Iconic rock quartet The Beatles were booming in the music industry and astronauts landed on the moon. It wasn’t uncommon to see a Volkswagen Bus driving down the street. In Somers, the Somers Cooperative Preschool was opening its doors for the first time, introducing students to the skills they needed to successfully move on to kindergarten.
Fifty years later, Go Local sat down with three of the founders of Somers Cooperative Preschool, the school’s Director and their Board President to talk about the history of the school that’s celebrating a milestone this year.
Somers Cooperative Preschool is not your average preschool. The school enrolls 20 students at a time and classes are taught by two teachers and working parents. Kim Vera, Director and Lead Teacher at Somers Cooperative Preschool, explained, “Our school has been in existence for fifty years this year. We’re very proud to be celebrating that. We have working parents that work in the classroom to help us facilitate our lessons and activities. The teachers coordinate the programing. Our school is also supported by a board of parents. All of the parents in the cooperative setting have different roles that help the school function.”
At Somers Cooperative Preschool, playtime and social skills are an important part of education. “We love to say that we’re very play-based. Children learn their social skills, interacting with one another, interacting with familiar and unfamiliar adults, which is really important at that age when they’re used to just being with their parents and their extended family,” Kim said.
Students at Somers Cooperative Preschool are introduced to a wide range of subjects. “We offer early literacy experiences, arts and crafts and gross and fine motor activities. We dabble in science experiments of all kinds. We do cooking. They are learning all the pre-kindergarten skills because we are hopeful to send them off to kindergarten very well equipped,” Kim explained.
Students at Somers Cooperative Preschool are also involved with their community. “We do lots and lots of field trips and community outreach, so they are learning about the community in which they live. We go out to different places such as the post office and the fire department. We check out local farms and learn about milk production. We also have different community sources come in to visit us like the dentist, who comes in and teaches us about good oral hygiene. We have the local police come and they teach us about being comfortable and safe around the police and being comfortable talking to them. We have many, many community visitors,” Kim explained.
The school is not exclusive to Somers residents. Students are welcome to enroll from any surrounding location. “We have students from all over in places like Stafford, Somers, Enfield and Ellington. We’ve even had some who have traveled from Vernon. Wherever they can travel from, they are welcome to come,” Kim said.
Allison Roy, Board President of Somers Cooperative Preschool is helping to put together the school’s celebration event. “Everyone in the school is helping and all of the parents are helping. We are going to have booths and are setting it up kind of like a carnival. All of the families will each have a booth. We are selling tickets and with the tickets, you get food and a certain amount of tickets to play games. We will also have raffles,” Alison shared.
Kim said she is looking forward to alumni returning to tour the school that they grew up with. “We’ll do tours the day of the event so that anybody who would love to see the school or maybe attended the school and hasn’t been here in years will get a chance to have a tour and see how its changed or what’s still the same,” Kim said.
Allison said she loves being a part of the Somers Cooperative Preschool and watching her son grow up. “As a parent, I love being a part of the school and being a part of his education. Being able to watch him grow and learn and change. Especially going from a stay-at-home mom to being at school with him. I got to see him interact with the other kids. I got to see him grow socially, which I think is really awesome. You get to watch them grow into little people with their own personalities. The parents really make the school their own. That’s not something you’re going to get anywhere else,” Allison shared.
Kim, who has been a preschool teacher for several years, said she enjoys the unique, cooperative experience. “I came from a non-cooperative setting. I’ve been a preschool teacher for many, many years and I came here and one of my favorite parts is working directly with the parents to formulate this very unique education plan for their children and watching their children in this setting. Then getting to see them grow is awesome. My favorite part in this field and this job is working with the little ones and watching them learn and grow. Seeing them make those connections is just amazing. I cry every year at graduation,” Kim said.
The school that stands today exists thanks to the original founders. Laurie White, who co-founded Somers Cooperative Preschool, shared the story of the school’s opening. “It was all hatched at the dining room table in my house when somebody new moved to town and she had started a nursery school very similar to what we eventually started here in the state of Wisconsin. My first question to her was ‘would you be willing to do it again?’ and she said, ‘oh yes I would love to, but I don’t know anybody in this town. If you can find me some interested parents, we’ll give it a go.’ The next day, I called her and said, ‘we have nine or ten interested parents. When do you want to set a date for the meeting? That was it. We finally advertised for a general meeting and we were hoping that some people would come and were amazed when lots of people came,” Laurie shared.
Laurie explained that there has been a large cultural shift in the last fifty years that made the startup of Somers Cooperative Preschool a little different. “There was no competition in those days. There was no other nursery school in Somers, no other preschool anywhere near. There was no daycare. Parents didn’t work outside the home as much as they do today. It was a very different setting, perhaps easier in a way,” Laurie said. What was similar was the small class of 20 students, two teachers and parents.
Kim and Laurie also shared what has changed education-wise over the last half a century.
“From my perspective, I think that more than likely the regulations have become a little bit more strict and the rigors of preschool are a little bit greater. The expectations of what preschoolers should know and the attention that is given to early childhood education is much, much greater. I think that they’ve come up with many different standards and facets that people should know, which is probably a little bit different,” Kim shared.
Laurie agreed, sharing, “Ours was very much play-based and getting along with each other. There wasn’t much emphasis on the reading skills or counting skills. We did read a lot of stories to them. That was always important. But I think that has changed drastically in the last fifty years.”
Kim shared, “That’s something that hasn’t changed is that we spend a lot of time doing free play where the children have their own opportunities to explore the classroom with the teachers right there to guide and introduce new opportunities to them. That probably hasn’t changed very much.”
Everyone at the table could agree that two things sure haven’t changed: the sand tables have always been messy and it’s never been easy to get every student bundled up for the cold weather.
Gail Karszes, who was Equipment Chairman of Somers Cooperative Preschool, explained her role in the formation of the school, showing that it has always been a community effort. “My youngest son was born on the day of the first general meeting, so I wasn’t there. I was the equipment chairman, so that just meant making sure it was all clean and everything was repaired that needed to be repaired. Fortunately, one of the members of the board’s father-in-law lived down the street on Main Street and would fix anything I brought him. It worked perfectly,” Gail said.
Pam Anthony, who was in charge of advertising at the time of the school’s opening, shared, “My husband built a lot of the bookcases and things. We had no funding at all. When we started, we had nothing. And we just built it up from enthusiasm from parents who were so excited to have the school for their children.”
Pam explained that lack of technology called for lots of handmade advertising. “You couldn’t go to the printer and have everything done. You had to do it for yourself with lots of poster boards and lots of magic markers,” Pam shared.
But all in all, a good team of people who were optimistic about having Somers Cooperative Preschool in town made everything worth it.
“It was difficult, but everybody pitched in together. We were a good bunch of people who all got along also,” Pam said.
As each woman in the room shared stories, laughed and bonded over memories, it was clear that Somers Cooperative Preschool has held a special place in their hearts across generations, and that it will continue to for the Somers community for years to come.
“Some things stay the same,” Pam said, with a smile that showed just how proud she is to be a part of Somers Cooperative Preschool.
For more information on Somers Cooperative Preschool, visit somerscoop.org
The Somers Cooperative Preschool’s 50th Birthday Celebration will take place May 11 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Somers Cooperative School, located at 599 Main Street in Somers. Advance tickets can be purchased via Facebook at www.facebook.com/Somerscoop and cost $12 for adults and $8 for children. Tickets will also be available the day of the event for $15 for adults and $10 for children. An open house will be hosted May 14 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the school.
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