Rhode Island College Cooperative Preschool Helps Children and Parents Thrive

Cooperative preschool
Rhode Island College Impact

It is the only preschool in Rhode Island offered on a college campus exclusively for members of its college community – and at such a low fee.

Nestled just by the RIC tennis courts and Whipple Hall lies an overlooked gem: the Rhode Island College Cooperative Preschool.

The Cooperative Preschool is accredited and open to all RIC students and faculty. At only $50 a month, the preschool offers an affordable and convenient alternative for parents compared to the majority of other childcare facilities in the state.

Co-ops are people-centered and run democratically so that everyone who works for or is a member of the co-op has a voice and actively participates. Parents volunteer four hours a week as assistant teachers at any time of their choosing and can also serve on the preschool’s board.

To enroll, children must be between the ages of three and five and toilet trained by September. Parents can also enroll their children at any time during the school year as long as there is an opening.

Rather than running only at set times, the preschool accommodates parents’ class schedules as well as anything else campus related, such as work-study, study time at the library, extracurricular activities or decompressing at the gym.

The first seed of the co-op was planted in the 1970s when two RIC students with different schedules decided to take turns watching one another’s children. As more parents heard about it, it evolved into a group in a basement classroom. Eventually, RIC granted the group the building that now houses the preschool, formerly a utility shed. In the early 1980s, the co-op officially became an accredited preschool.

This is the only preschool in the state of Rhode Island offered on a college campus exclusively for members of its college community and at such a low fee. Between this and the fact that parents volunteer at the co-op, there’s a great sense of community.

“Every parent in this program is going through the same thing,” says Carolyn Shield, head teacher. “They’re struggling to go to school with children, they’re trying to work and they’re trying to get their homework done before they get home, because when they get home, they’re mom or dad.”

Shield adds, “When parents first arrive, they look at each other and go, ‘Oh, you get it. You know what I’m feeling. You know what I’m going through.’ Parents really click quickly, as do the children.”

The co-op is play-based, offering a wide variety of projects and activities to enhance children’s cognitive, social and motor skills. Children of all language abilities are welcome and are encouraged to learn about one another’s culture.

“The love of learning develops in preschool,” Shields says. “That’s when children learn that they love to be in school. If they’re already going to kindergarten and feel confident in themselves and the skills they’ve learned here, it will encourage them to do well and continue.”

The co-op particularly benefits parents who want to return to school but are concerned about working less hours or leaving their current jobs. Money saved from not having to enroll their children in more expensive preschools makes a world of difference.

Shields recalls a chance meeting with a woman who used to play basketball for RIC as a student. The woman dropped out because she had a child. Shields asked her if she had ever heard about the Cooperative Preschool.

“She was devastated,” Shields says. “She could have continued school had she known about our program.”

Jeidy Par ’22 expressed immense gratitude for the co-op. Par transferred to RIC from CCRI. Before transferring she recalls, “There were times when I was working crummy jobs and paying $1,000 a month for child care.” The child care, she adds, didn’t even cover all of her hours in class.

Par only learned about the co-op at RIC last year. After enrolling her child, she was astounded at the difference it made in their lives and in their relationship.

“If I had a 10-minute break, I could go and check on my daughter,” she says. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to rub her back during rest time.”

It also gave her the opportunity to give back. Par serves as secretary on the co-op board.

“The co-op made my year,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to develop a more intimate relationship with my child and be there for one of the most formative years of her life – her first year in school.”

For more information about the Cooperative Preschool, visit: https://www.ric.edu/department-directory/cooperative-preschool