“Intro to History of Parent Ed & Co-op Programs in WA State” by Pam Mcelmeel (2007)


In The Beginning:    A New Folk Movement in the United States

Katharine Whiteside Taylor was a pioneer and nationally known consultant for the parent education cooperative movement in the United States.  Ms. Taylor was contracted by the Seattle Public Schools in 1941 to develop parent cooperative playgroups in Washington State.   Following are quotes about the development of cooperative groups for parents and children in the United States from her book PARENT COOPERATIVE NURSERY SCHOOLS, published by the Teacher College, Columbia University, 1954 (pp.3-4).

The first cooperative nursery school in the United States was started in 1916 by a group of twelve faculty wives at the University of Chicago who wanted to secure social education for their children, parent education for themselves and a little free time to volunteer for the Red Cross.

During the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s cooperative nursery schools expanded to other states.   Many coops were affiliated with higher education institutions and public schools such as Smith College in New York, University of California in Lost Angeles, Berkeley Public Schools in California and Seattle Public Schools.

It is significant that cooperatives are not limited to any one socio-economic level.  True, in most localities the first groups started with college educated women (parents) of comfortable economic status.  But once a good example was established, it was usually followed by parent groups of varying backgrounds and earning capacity.

Further evidence of the value of cooperatives in meeting the needs of both children and parents is the way they carried on and grew with changing leadership, both lay and professional.  Their success has depended on the continual development of new leaders.

In her book Ms. Taylor estimated 500 parent cooperatives were operating in the United States in 1954.  Katharine Whiteside Taylor (1897-1989) was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 1996.  She devoted her life to cooperation, education, children, and peace.

The Parent Education Cooperative Model

 The Parent Education Cooperative Model in Washington State is based on the format describe in Katharine Whiteside Taylor’s books.   The enrolling parents operate and financially support a child development laboratory for their children. Since parents are responsible for the business and financial arrangements, they learn how to apply concepts of group development, group decision-making, and resource management.

The children’s program provides the experiential core for adult learning about early childhood education and child development.  The parents also attend adult education classes to supplement the laboratory experience as teacher assistants and to explore a range of issues related to family relations and home management.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s this original model was adapted to include other parent child programs such as campus child care, and grant funded programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start and school district early childhood programs. These program variations still follow the cooperative model that include parent-child interactions and parent decision-making.



Federal Vocational Education Funds for Parent Education

The rationale for parent education as a component of adult vocational education originated with the federal Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.  The Act supported education for farmers and their families through land grant colleges (such as WSU), county extension agencies, secondary public school education and adult vocational education programs.  Since the Smith-Hughes Act and all subsequent legislation for vocational education, homemaking, including parenting, has been defined as an occupation and therefore, clearly eligible to receive federal funds.

Since vocational training is skill oriented rather than academic, practicing skills with a trained instructor provided the foundation of the coursework. The cooperative preschools affiliated with school districts utilized an attendance based funding model.  When the programs moved into the community colleges, attendance requirements continued to be used as the basis for assigning credit, including lecture/discussion led by an instructor, laboratory experience as a teacher assistant, and clinical experience in school related activities.

Organization of Parent Education Programs (OPEP)

OPEP is a professional organization of program coordinators employed in Washington state community and technical colleges. The leadership group has changed titles over the years: Consumer and Homemaking Education Coordinators in 1976; Organization of Parent Education Coordinators (OPEC) in 1983; Organization of Parent Education Programs (OPEP) in Washington Technical and Community Colleges in 1994.

The Coordinator’s group meets quarterly to share information, curriculum development and content, personnel training and inter-agency collaboration. Since 1977 the fall quarter meetings have been scheduled in conjunction with the state WAEYC Conference.  Since 1990 the group has met each year at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, Washington for a two day retreat.  The third yearly meeting of the group was held at various campus sites until the 2000 decade when they have been scheduled on the Interactive Video Conferencing (ITV) system at several college sites.   The OPEP leadership team holds an Executive Board meeting prior to each quarterly Coordinator’s meeting; plus the Executive Board also has a summer planning retreat.

Federal vocational monies from SBCTC allows OPEP to set standards that help maintain quality programs throughout the state system and plan professional in-service for Parent Education instructors and teachers.



The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC)

Since the Community College Act of 1967, the SBCTC provides overall policy governance for the two-year public colleges in Washington State. SBCTC is responsible for developing system wide budget requests for consideration by the governor and legislature and for disbursing state and federal resources to the colleges.  SBCTC has provided a State Board staff member to OPEP as well as support funds for inservice training through the Vocational Leadership monies

Washington Association for Education of Young Children (WAEYC)

WAEYC was established in 1977 as the Washington state affiliate of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  These national and state professional organizations have provided research based information about child development, early childhood education, and family support methods that continues to benefit parent education cooperative programs in the state.   Parent Education Cooperative Coordinators group held its fall quarter meeting in 1977 in conjunction with the first annual WAEYC conference in Issaquah.  The conference provided workshops for professional development of preschool teachers, parent instructors and program coordinators.  Vendors provided a variety of early childhood resources for review and purchase.  Because of these benefits OPEP continues to schedule the fall quarter meetings in conjunction the WAEYC state conference each fall.

Coordinators and instructors from college and VTI parent education programs were involved in leadership roles from the beginning of WAEYC.  The very first elected President of WAEYC in 1977-78 was Nancy Hutchins, who at that time was a parent instructor at North Seattle Community College.  In 1979-80 Carol Mooney, Coordinator of Home and Family Life Programs for Clover Park Technical Institute, served as WAEYC President.  Cynthia Calbick, Coordinator of Parent Education at Big Bend Community College was elected WAEYC President in 1982-83; Cynthia continued to serve on the state WAEYC Board, after she retired, until 2007.  Maralyn ThomasSchier, Coordinator of Parent Education at Seattle Central Community College served two terms as WAEYC President:  1987-88 and 1990-92.  Martha Scoville, Parent Education Coordinator at Green River Community College, 1984 to 1990 served as WAEYC President from 1992-94.

When WAEYC started offering Inclusion Grants in 1988 to Early Childhood Programs across the state, Cooperative Preschools were some of the first programs to apply.  The purpose of the grant is to promote inclusion of preschoolers with disabilities into classrooms with typically developing children.  These Inclusion Grants continue to benefit many cooperative preschool programs. The grant funds come to WAEYC from the Office of Public Instruction (OSPI) and require collaboration with school districts. Professional development for staff and parents about meeting the needs of a range of special needs children is provided.

Pam Mcelmeel PictureNow retired, author Pam J. Mcelmeel, M.Ed. had enjoyed working as one of the SCC parent educators assigned to QACP since 1987.  Before joining the SCC Parent Education Program staff, Pam was simultaneously completing her Master in Education at the University of Washington and parenting two preschoolers.






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