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Mom and Pop Schools : Parents who participate in co-ops for their preschoolers say they enjoy the sense of sharing and chance to watch their children develop.

March 19, 1993|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

What makes cooperative preschools special is just that--their spirit of cooperation, the ability to incorporate the entire family into the program. They are parent-run organizations, usually consisting of 15 to 30 families.

The idea isn't new. The first cooperative nursery school originated in 1915 at the University of Chicago, where researchers wanted to offer socialization for children and provide parent education simultaneously. In California, more than 300 cooperative schools are members of the California Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools. Of the nine in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, most have been around for about 20 years, but some are actually 30-something.

Each school employs at least one professional teacher-director to set curriculum and projects, but parents are required to keep things operational by working from two to four times a month, depending on the program. They also must attend monthly meetings, help with school cleanups and fund-raising projects, provide snacks and participate in one specialized job, such as purchasing supplies, membership recruitment or even mixing paint, weekly.

"They are definitely not day-care centers," said Kathy Whisenhunt, a parent with the Canoga Park Parents Co-Op Nursery School. "It takes lots of dedication. Lots of time. But it's worth it to actually see the progress of your child."

And for better or for worse, they are very much like an extended family. Members often quickly begin car-pooling, then segue into baby-sitting each other's kids.

"When I left work to stay home with my daughter, I didn't know anyone," said Lisa Supanich, president of the Studio City Co-Op Nursery School. "The school was great, because I had to get so involved. I instantly met other mothers who were in the same position I was. We learned a lot together."

And if times become difficult for a family, members roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done.

"The last months of my third pregnancy, I was bedridden," Whisenhunt said. "Members of the co-op worked my shift, brought my children to and from school, had them over for play dates, and even cooked meals and cleaned my house. I don't know of any other nursery school where parents would get that involved."

"It takes a certain type of person to get involved with a co-op group," said Gwendolyn Lew, director of Sherman Oaks Co-Op Nursery School since 1987. "Usually they are very nurturing people who truly enjoy working with children."

Most cooperative schools are developmentally oriented, stressing learning through play and socialization instead of focusing on academics.

"We learn by having fun," Lew said. "Cooking and science projects, lots of hands-on manipulatives and field trips. And each year is a new experience, with different parents from different cultures and races who can offer unique talents and gifts for the children to learn from."

Area Schools

A roundup of the cooperative nursery schools in the area. Costs are per month:

Our Children's Place Preschool, Pacific Park, Pacific Avenue and Hollywood Way, Burbank, opened its doors in September. "Beginning a new school takes a lot of work," said Patti Mills, the school treasurer. "But we've had two extremely successful fund-raisers, so we're very optimistic. We have lots of beautiful new equipment and a great play area at the park." Two- and three-day programs from 9 a.m. to noon. $65 and $85. Call (818) 953-4313 or (818) 846-5212.

Canoga Park Parents Cooperative Nursery School, 20600 Roscoe Blvd., is in its 37th year. The school rents a room from St. John's Methodist Church, using its playground equipment for outdoor time. Three-, four- and five-day programs are offered from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The school will have its first summer session this year. $90 to $110. Call (818) 882-2955 or (818) 773-7469.

Me and Mom Creative Learning Center, 19059 Vicci Ave., Canyon Country, is 15 years old. Operating on the campus of Oak Spring Canyon School, this co-op offers a program for 3-year-olds Tuesdays and Thursdays and one for 4-year-olds Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. $65 and $75. Call (805) 252-7785.

Encino Parents Nursery School, 16953 Ventura Blvd., has been around for 25 years. Using a building at Encino Park, the preschool accepts children from 2 1/2 to 5. The program is five days a week, but children can participate any or all days from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. $90. Call (818) 788-4582.

North Hills Co-Op Nursery School, 10341 Woodley Ave., Granada Hills, is more than 30 years old. The school rents space from Woodley Avenue Baptist Church and offers a four-day program from 9 a.m. to noon for children from 2 years, 9 months old. Mommy and Me program from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays is also offered. $75. Call (818) 360-2892 or (818) 368-0959.

Sherman Oaks Co-Op Nursery School, 14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks, meets at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park. Established in 1955, the school has space for 24 families, with a five-day program from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Children must be 2 years, 9 months to enroll. $110. Call (818) 501-9812.

Studio City Co-Op Nursery School, 12621 Rye St., is another 30-year-old co-op that has a unique outdoor classroom on the grounds of Beeman Park. With room for 24 families, the school has two-, three- and four-day programs from 9 a.m. to noon. $42, $58 and $74. Call (818) 508-9402.

Woodland Hills Parents Nursery School, 6610 Shoup Ave., Canoga Park, opened its doors in 1958. With 45 families participating, the school provides two- and three-day programs as well as a pre-kindergarten session from 9 a.m. to noon. $63 to $83. Call (818) 703-9857.

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