Co-op school provides alternative for pre-K students and families

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Mar. 31, 2011
Jason, 5, will graduate from Buckingham Cooperative Nursery School this spring. Photos by Steve Smith.
Jason, 5, will graduate from Buckingham Cooperative Nursery School this spring. Photos by Steve Smith.

When Lisa Desmarais, co-chair of Buckingham Cooperative Nursery School's executive board, learned that the movie “Race to Nowhere” – the documentary about the pressures of today's students to achieve at all costs – was to be screened at Glastonbury High School April 6, it made her think about her school’s approach to young learners before they head to kindergarten.

“We’re really play-based, and we value down time with our children,” she said. “We just have a really slower-based approach.”

Desmarais and co-chair Barbara Dupuis said they value the ability to be involved in their children’s education, as well as the opportunity for children to learn while still being able to play, without the pressure of tests and scores.

“They're only 3 or 4 years old,” Desmarais said. “They’re learning how to sit still and how to listen [for example]. They’re learning how to zip up their coats. We do a lot that is play-based, but everything has its purpose.”

Teacher/director Karen Guinness agreed that the emphasis is on learning through play.

“We have group time each day,” Guinness said. “We always want to make sure that part of that group time is devoted to the kids playing with each other, because social skills are really important. We want to make sure they know how to share, and interact with each other.”

“They're stringing beads [as one example], but they are also learning fine motor skills that are going to help them when they get to kindergarten and need to hold a pencil,” Desmarais said. “We're really just trying to work on little physical things that they need.”

Guinness added that there still is an emphasis on academics, but the route to get there is different from other schools.

“We do talk about numbers, letters, colors and shapes,” she said, “but we try to do it through the art projects that we do, through games we play and the songs we sing. We incorporate it that way, and we really want to emphasize routines like how to line up, what the rules are, and what the expectations are here at the school.”

Dupuis said the measure of the school’s success comes in talking to local kindergarten teachers.

“They can tell what kids came from what preschool,” Dupuis said. “I think one of the biggest draws for our school is that it’s a very learned atmosphere, but it's also a very relaxed atmosphere. Our kids are learning, but at the same time, there's not that pressure.”

Dupuis added that many other preschools are becoming regimented, much like first-grade used to be, because of the pressure to meet standardized test quotas and the highly-competitive nature of schools.

“It's hard for a 3-year-old,” she said. “The draw for me, personally, and my child was that he's going to be in school from kindergarten on until he’s 18. So, I want him to go to a place where he's learning, but he's coming home happy and he's having fun.”

Guinness, who previously taught in public schools, including Hebron Avenue School, said the parents demand more opportunities for achievement, such as AP courses at the high school level, and testing is also a factor.

“The CMTs are making it so that we have to have these kids prepared to do well on the tests so that our school district looks good,” she said.

Dupuis said that while academics are taught at Buckingham, more attention is given to each student's needs.

“Our teachers really hone in on the potential that each kid brings in,” she said. “Each kid is given the opportunity to be themselves and explore who they want to be. At the same time, they’re being taught how to socially behave.”

The cooperative piece of the puzzle is what allows for the parents to participate in their child's education.

The school requires some basic participation from each parent, but allows flexibility for the parents’ needs and desires. Typically, each parent will have assigned days to be in the classroom. Parents may also have assigned tasks, such as making supplies for the children’s crafts.

“We all have a piece of it,” Dupuis said. “We get to actually be with our kids, and be with our kids’ friends. We see how they act differently outside of the home.”

There's also a social aspect for the parents. “It’s definitely a community,” Dupuis said. “We’re all friends. We do things outside of school and go to each other’s kids’ birthday parties.”

The school is in its 62nd year of existence, and is located in the lower level of Buckingham Congregational Church at 16A Cricket Lane(off of Hebron Avenue in East Glastonbury).

Parents interested in learning more about the school are invited to attend an open house on April 26 from 6to 7 p.m., or visit the school’s website at


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