What is a cooperative school?

A cooperative school is one in which parents have a high level of involvement, from assisting in classrooms to running our school board, voting on tuition, and making other kinds of administrative decisions. It is a school for our children, run by our families. Individually, families can choose their level of involvement. At a minimum level, each family will be part of a committee, based on skills they already have (carpentry, public relations, legal knowledge, etc.) and assist in their child's classroom on a rotating basis (once every 7-9 weeks). At a higher level of cooperative involvement, families may take on administrative positions, chairing committees, and taking positions on our parent board. This decision is up to each family.

What are the benefits of a cooperative school?

One major advantage is parent involvement and family connection — we have various events for parents to both socialize with each other and continue their developmental education about parenting. Park West families often say that their time here has taught them to be "better parents" by example. Another advantage is due to our parents assisting in classrooms. Each class has two teachers, an assisting parent, and may also have an assistant teacher. This results in some of the best teacher-student ratios of any preschool program in Chicago: 4.5:1 in our 2 day morning class and all 3 day classes; and 6:1 in 4 day morning and Junior Kindergarten classes. We also offer a parent-tot program one morning per week for 18 to 24-month-old children, to enjoy alongside a parent or significant adult and two teachers. Whichever program you choose, you will get to know everyone your child knows, making her/his learning process consistent from school to home. Finally, your child benefits from the fact that Park West Cooperative is a non-profit institution; this allows us to focus solely on educating and nurturing your child. All fundraising supports our programs directly, maximizing the benefit to our children.

Does a cooperative school mean parents can't work outside the home?

At Park West Cooperative, approximately 50% of our families have two working parents. As a parent, this means your child will be with children from families who work at home, work part time, and work full time outside the home. We are a school that reflects our diverse families, but we all have one thing in common, regardless of work status — making our children's learning environment a priority.

Why do you enroll children through a lottery?

To promote fairness and give everyone an equal chance, children are admitted through a computerized lottery process. Every new applicant has the same chance of being accepted. Once a child has been accepted into our cooperative programs, the family has priority and is guaranteed a spot for that child or any other siblings in future years. Park West alumni also have priority for their children. (Now that we've been in operation for more than 45 years, each year some of our children are children of Park West alumni!)

Does my child need to be potty-trained?

Park West, in line with our priority on children's development, believes that toileting is a highly individualized process and, therefore, is not required for admission to our school. Our teachers are skilled at handling a child's right to privacy about his/her body and anything related to the toileting process.

Preschool vs. Daycare?

Park West Cooperative is a preschool, not a daycare program. Therefore, we offer half-day programs only. We feel that developmentally, this is what is ideal for children in early stages of growth. Toward that end, we structure our half-day programs with a developmentally oriented curriculum, providing individual opportunities for exploration, group opportunities for negotiation and decision making, free play, and gross motor development every day.

What qualifies Park West Coop's teachers to do this work?

Our teaching staff is one of the most experienced and tenured group of educators in any preschool in Chicago. Teachers at Park West Cooperative stay for the long haul, fostering long-term connections with our children, families and communities. Two of our teachers were former Park West students, several others were Park West parents, and two have even seen their grandchildren attend Park West. Teacher tenure ranges from six years to thirty years. More than a third of our teachers have been here for over a decade, creating the kind of environment that has promoted our children's development so well for more than 45 years, since our school's inception. We are also one of the few preschools to have male teachers, whose perspective and skills add an important component to the development of all of our children. We are the only cooperative preschool to have a gender-diverse staff.

How do you handle separation?

Separation is something of utmost importance to us — it is the core of our attachment, play-based philosophy and a direct model for how our teachers nurture the children inside our classrooms. Parents or other significant adults in the child's life can be involved in this process. We begin with staggered starts to school, first a 20-minute individual visit, then a half-day visit, and finally a full school day. During the first two weeks, in particular, our teachers tailor a separation plan for each individual child, and may ask parents to wait upstairs for a portion of the day, as well as indicate when parents may leave their child for the day entirely. Separation is child-oriented, and teachers will ensure that each child is ready for it, creating a classroom environment that is paced, accepting, and meets the child's needs, from the inside to the outside.

Outside the classroom, where do children play?

Every child at Park West Cooperative will get an opportunity to play in our well-equipped, 5,000 square foot gym, containing wheeled vehicles, bikes, and scooters, as well as gymnastics mats. This is a part of our daily curriculum for each class. Regular gym time allows children to develop their gross motor skills, as well as to develop their social selves and negotiation skills. We also take advantage of our safe, park-friendly neighborhood when weather permits, to play outside.

How does Park West ready my child for kindergarten and beyond?

The distinction often made between "academic" and "play-based" preschools presents a false dichotomy. Adults have a way in which they think children learn, which is different from how children actually learn. At Park West, we build on decades of developmental research and clinical findings that reveal one thing — children at early ages learn through play. The power of play is tantamount to children being able to "play" out the fundamentals of more intellectual learning that occurs later on in elementary school. For example, our curriculum focuses on early numeracy and literacy by integrating them into classroom activities. From sign-up sheets where children initiate writing skills to choosing the number of crackers to eat at snack time, the fundamentals of later learning are being modeled every day at Park West. Not only does research support the use of play into curriculum as building the fundamental domains of knowledge (like reading/writing and mathematics), but it also fosters the relationships and emotionality that allows children to trust in teachers and caregivers. Play is the vehicle through which children retain information and acquire skills as well. Scholars in the area of development have found time and again that intelligence can only develop in the presence of a supportive emotional connection. Park West Cooperative's emphasis on a play-based curriculum provides exactly that.

Where do Park West students attend elementary schools?

Park West children are represented in nearly every public, parochial and private school in Chicago: Neighborhood schools like Blaine and Burley; magnet schools like La Salle and Hawthorn; classical schools like Skinner North; private institutions like Francis Parker and Latin School, Anshe Emet, Chicago City Day School, Sacred Heart and St. Clement. Regardless of where they end up, our families have seen one common thing — a Park West preschool foundation has prepared their children to transition exceptionally well into later stages.

Quotes from Our Park West Family

"When I meet prospective parents, I always say how life changing the school is."

—Susan K., former parent