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Steilacoom cooperative preschool

Co-op lets military parents stay involved in children’s education

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:19PM October 10th, 2013

LAKEWOOD — When Deanna Hume-Cheatwood’s family moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord last year, the Army spouse was on the hunt for a preschool.

Hume-Cheatwood searched for a school that allowed her to be involved in the early education of her 3-year-old daughter Betty. She found a decidedly military fit in the Steilacoom Cooperative Preschool located in Lakewood.

“I get to be in the classroom and get to volunteer and be with her, and see how she is doing,” Hume-Cheatwood said.

The co-op preschool is for children ages 2 to 4 and is taught by Laurel McGiffin. Tuition costs for the school are kept low because parents volunteer in the classroom as assistant teachers.

Hume-Cheatwood is just one of 13 military families involved in the school. Debbie Ornelas has been involved with co-ops for seven years, and was involved with a co-op preschool on JBLM a few years ago. When the school lost its location, it was suggested to the Air Force spouse to transfer the children to the Steilacoom Cooperative Preschool. The school had just relocated to Lakewood from Steilacoom and was reaching out to its new community.

“It’s a great community,” Ornelas said. “Because there are so many military families involved, they have an understanding of what it’s like to have deployments. We’re able to support each other.”

Ornelas brought the savings account of the folded JBLM preschool to Steilacoom and started a military scholarship to offer a 25 percent discount on tuition for active duty military families. Tuition costs range from $50 to $75 a month.

While children learn through multi-sensory and hands-on play alongside parents at the co-op preschool, the parents are learning, too. Parents involved in the preschool earn college credit in a continuing education program through Bates Technical College. The college provides parents with free parent workshops and trainings.

Hume-Cheatwood has a teaching certificate and each hour spent in the classroom with Bettie counts toward her continuing education credits.

Classes are age specific and are titled Red (2 year olds), Yellow (3 year olds) and Blue (4 year olds). The Red class is taught with parents in the classroom Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. The Yellow class is taught Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and the Blue class is taught Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Parents volunteer three to five times a month in the Yellow and Blue classes.

“You get all these really fun ideas of things you can do at home with your kids,” Hume-Cheatwood said. “You get to meet other parents who have the same values as you do in wanting to support your kids in education.”

Amy Reichling started to bring her son Matthew to the preschool because McGiffin is her mother-in-law. Working alongside her son she learned Matthew has a sensory disorder that led to a diagnosis and a better understanding about it.

The school operates out of Lakewood Presbyterian Church and offers a multitude of learning activities through exploration and discovery. There are art easels, a texture table, a science center, wooden blocks, dress up and many other activities. McGiffin can be found right alongside the children playing with clay and finger paints.

“They like to get messy,” Hume-Cheatwood said.

Steilacoom Cooperative Preschool will host an open house Oct. 16 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to offer a chance for interested families to meet McGiffin, see the classroom, talk with parents and learn more about the school.

The school is also busy fundraising for its military scholarship and are gearing up for a Military Scholarship Auction from Oct. 20-27.

For more information about Steilacoom Cooperative Preschool visit or call 253-905-6009.