The Early Co-op Preschool Movement
The first cooperative nursery school was founded in 1916 by a group of faculty wives at the University of Chicago to give them free time for Red Cross work while at the same time providing social education for the children as well as parent education for themselves.
In 1927, The Children’s Community Center was organized in Berkeley, California, and is today the oldest continually operating cooperative preschool. In the 1940s, co-op schools developed in British Columbia, Ontario, Michigan, Washington State, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Subsequently, they grew in number to include hundreds of groups, which banded together under local and regional councils. The first Canadian council was founded in Vancouver in 1944. The first U.S. council was in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1946. The first area council was the East Bay Council in Oakland, California in 1946. Other California councils then joined to form the first state council.
Under other names, preschool co-ops spread around the world. In New Zealand, “play centres” began in 1941. “Preschool playgroups” started in Great Britain in 1960.
Schools and councils wrote manuals and other materials. However, there was an ongoing need for publications emphasizing the basic importance of education for parents, sound educational philosophy, helpful practices for the classroom, and how to organize and manage a cooperative. Katharine Whiteside Taylor covered these topics in Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools published in 1954, later renamed Parents and Children Learn Together. In 1958, Dr. Whiteside Taylor began a quarterly newsletter called “The Parent Cooperative,” which shared creative practices among schools and developed avenues for communication in the US, Canada, and internationally.
The Formation of PCPI
The desire for a national organization grew in the late 1950s. In 1960, a pre-session to form a national association was added to the conference of the American Council of Social Relations at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. A steering committee including Katharine Whiteside Taylor and the president of the Maryland Council, Becky Allen, undertook extensive work to prepare for the meeting. The goal was achieved when 150 people attended and decided to form the American Council of Parent Cooperatives (ACPC).
The purposes of ACPC were:
To strengthen and extend the parent cooperative movement.
To promote desirable standards.
To encourage continuing education for parents, teachers, and directors.
To promote interchange of information among cooperatives.
To cooperate with other educational organizations for more effective service relationships with parents of young children.
To study legislation concerning health and well being of children and families.
Carolyn Hawkins from Michigan was the first President. In preparation for the meeting, she had drafted a preamble and constitution, which were adopted by the group. Jean Stevenson from Montreal was the Vice President, Helena Guernsey from Indiana was the Secretary and Robert Guernsey was the Treasurer. Katharine Whiteside Taylor was the first Honorary Life Member.
Parent Cooperative Preschools International (PCPI)
At the 4th Annual Conference in 1964 the name was changed to Parent Cooperative Preschools International to open membership to other countries. Conferences have been held in all areas of Canada and the U.S., and once in Oxford, England. The first conference in Canada was held in Montreal. In the early years, advisors from Great Britain and New Zealand were appointed to the Board.
With strong membership in both Canada and the U.S., PCPI has maintained offices in both countries. In 1969, the Whiteside Taylor Centre for Co-operative Education was built by the Quebec Council and PCPI moved into its new international headquarters. The U.S. office was in Indianapolis.
PCPI celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1970 with the publication of Learning Together, an anthology of articles from “The Parent Cooperative.” That year PCPI began publishing the PCPI Journal, which was produced by a volunteer staff in Maryland.
Over the years, PCPI has developed many service materials for its members including books, an Annotated Bibliography now titled the Resource Catalog, publicity brochures, and organizational materials. A newsletter, Cooperatively Speaking, has replaced the Journal. Communication has expanded greatly with the use of the PCPI Yahoo group, e-mail, and the website.
PCPI becomes Fifty Years Old
As PCPI aged, so did its volunteers. Recognizing the problem of staffing the organization with volunteers, PCPI established an affiliation with the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) in 1997. NCBA has provided administrative and material support to PCPI’s volunteer officers and members. PCPI's mailing address is affiliated with the Oregon/Washington council of cooperative preschools (Parent Child Preschools Organization).
The relationship with NCBA illustrates the cooperative principle, “cooperation among cooperatives.” NCBA is the U.S. association that represents all types of cooperatives. NCBA also established the Cooperative Hall of Fame to honor those who have made genuinely heroic contributions to the cooperative community. PCPI is pleased to have two of its founders in the Cooperative Hall of Fame – Dr. Katharine Whiteside Taylor and Becky Allen.
On April 24, 2010, in Indianapolis, PCPI celebrated its 50th anniversary. Many current and former preschools parents and leaders were present including the first President Carolyn Hawkins.