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July 9, 2020
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Cotati-Rohnert Park Co-op Nursery School struggling to survive

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
May 8, 2020

During this pandemic and the consequent economic uncertainty, workers that have been let go or furloughed are receiving unemployment, businesses are eligible for a variety of small business loans and the public is encouraged to order take-out meals from local dining establishments to increase the restaurants’ chances of survival. However, many non-profits, who already struggle to make ends meet under normal circumstances, are at risk of not surviving this difficult time. One such non-profit is the Cotati-Rohnert Park Co-op Nursery School (CRPCNS)– a Cotati icon that has been teaching local pre-schoolers for over 65 years.

Like so many other businesses and non-profits, the center was forced to close when the shelter-in-place order took effect. Families could attempt some distance learning activities and the school tuition was cut to a fraction of its normal rate. In addition, several of the school’s annual fundraisers, including its end of school year raffle that usually brings in $4000-5,000, its biggest fundraiser, had to be cancelled. However, the fixed costs of the school continue, such as the mortgage, teacher salary and utilities. 

CRPCNS was started in 1953 by a group of mothers, in a time when pre-school education was not a readily accepted idea. Yet the group persisted and advocated for the idea, stating “Healthy, mentally alert, socially responsive, emotionally stable and spiritually sensitive children are the hope of today and the future. For this reason, pre-school education has wide significance for our community." The idea took hold and, much like it does today, was supported through tuition, donations and heavy parent support and volunteerism. Since its inception it used a co-op model. 

“The co-op model means heavy parent and family involvement,” explains Paige O'Connell, a parent and board member of CRPCNS. “Instead of the school employing three or four teachers, aids, and custodial staff, the parents do a lot of that. Parents or other family members volunteer in the classroom one day a week and act like a co-teacher or teacher’s assistant. Each family also has a maintenance or cleaning responsibility to keep the school clean, safe and healthy and in compliance with licensing guidelines.”  

Today the school serves two to five-year-old children, some that are grandchildren of the first generation that attended school there, in a play-based environment that is broader than home but smaller and more sheltered than kindergarten. Not only does the parent involvement allow families to be a part of their child’s early education, but it also makes the nursery school affordable for a lot of families that would not normally be able to afford a private pre-school. In addition, it is a place that parents cherish for the camaraderie it affords, where they can learn from each other through in-class experiences, as well as monthly parent meetings.

“The nice thing for the community is that it keeps the pre-school very affordable in comparison to other pre-schools in Sonoma County and the Bay Area,” says O’Connell. “The adult and child ratio is very good, but it’s mostly volunteers so we don’t have the salary expenses and other things that a lot of schools have. It’s a really nice option for families that don’t want to spend thousands of dollars a month on pre-school.”

In an attempt to get some help to overcome the shutdown, CRPCNS started a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $15,000. The organization is also applying for federal and state assistance and various grants, but those funding sources are uncertain or may be delayed in arriving, and the GoFundMe fundraiser allows the school to earn some much needed cash without resorting to going into debt, or worse, having to close its doors. To help support this community icon and ensure that it will serve children for generations to come, consider donating to their GoFundMe campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-save-our-nonprofit-community-preschool.