Since 1978, Raindrop Co-Operative Preschool has been operating in Aberdeen, specializing in a parent-child educational partnership unlike any other in greater Grays Harbor. Their current teacher and program director is Falisha Zwolinski – or “Mrs. Z” as her pupils call her. On weekdays during the school year you’ll find her in a cozy daylight basement facility reading stories, leading the kids in song, and cuddling a classroom full of little pupils – who simply adore her.

aberdeen hondaA surprising number of Harborites may in fact not be familiar with Raindrop or co-op preschools as a class. However, in a world where parents can find themselves all-too-isolated when their young children are born, co-ops are a wonderful way to begin connecting with a parental peer group. These groups also provide adults the opportunity to participate in the work and care that goes into providing a positive, safe, and fun environment for little ones.

Co-ops differ from a typical daycare. Parents will spend more time with their children, and the day’s itinerary features academia-based lesson planning and structure. At Raindrop, the toddler program is designed for adults and toddlers to attend classes together. For preschool-age children, adults take turns volunteering in the classroom. Class sizes are small, with a maximum class size of ten for toddlers, and twelve for preschoolers.

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Falisha Zwolinski, known to her students as Mrs. Z., reads a story. Photo courtesy: Falisha Zwolinski.

Co-ops are also run by parent committee, with the teacher serving on the board. While Mrs. Z. leads the school with ideas for curriculum and lesson planning, utilizing her teacher’s degree and experience, she is also responsive to parents’ needs and concerns – and of course, the desires of her students.

“I have a schedule and lesson plan every day, but I am happy to set that aside if the kids bring up something exciting that we can explore further,” says Mrs. Z. “I remember one day last year a student pointed out that there was a dot very high on the wall. So, we all spent time guessing what it could be and we made play binoculars out of paper towel tubes. We described and studied this dot for the entire class period, and the kids were completely engaged with the scientific process. It turned out to be a sticky hand toy, but it was amazing to see their minds working so hard on something they cared about.”

And Mrs Z. is a natural with her kids. If you spend any time with her you can tell she thoroughly enjoys their company, and she speaks to them with the directness children love. This job also allows her to spend time with her own children Julian, 4, and Vesper, 18 months. Incredibly, she also earned a degree in her children’s early years to prepare her for her teaching career.

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A steady hand is needed as Mrs. Z. helps a student with a colorful handprint project. Photo courtesy: Falisha Zwolinski.

“I graduated with my Associate’s Degree from Grays Harbor College in 2011. At that time I was planning on becoming an English teacher at a college level when I had finished my studies. I found out on the day I graduated community college, though, that I was pregnant with my first child,” she says. “Boy, did that change my plans! I took some time off of to be with him, and really fell in love with child development. So, when I went back to school at The Evergreen State College, I switched my emphasis to early childhood education, and graduated in June of 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts.

“I love teaching at Raindrop, and I would love to continue teaching for the foreseeable future. Eventually, I want to go back to school and finish my Master’s Degree, but I will probably wait until my kids are a little older.”

Like many millennials, Mrs. Z. juggles more than one job, waitressing in the evenings. “I have been working at Thai Carrot all throughout my college studies working towards teaching. I’m still working there while teaching! It’s been amazing, and from my experiences there I’ve been able to teach my students how to count to ten in Thai. They picked up on it incredibly fast.”

Acknowledging that child development is more than just the mastery of the three “Rs,” Mrs. Z. continues, “For a lot of kids, this is their first social environment. I’ve been incorporating the Second Step emotional management curriculum into our circle time, and the kids have been so quick to name and talk about their emotions. It has been amazing!” The kit was purchased in part by a recent GoFundMe campaign that netted $325 of the $500 needed, from local supporters.

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Mrs. Z. with her oldest, Julian, who enjoys journalling, superheroes, and playing Plants vs. Zombies.

Raindrop is a wonderful program, and Mrs. Z. is ideally suited to lead the troops. “We need to get word out about our great little school,” says Raindrop parent, Erin Jeffreys. “It is a gem that many don’t know about. We have so many new families moving to the area and public preschool is not something everyone likes. Our school provides a more involved and open way of preschool. Once kids see it and play there, they never want to leave.”

Raindrop Co-Operative Preschool is located at 420 N. Broadway in the basement of the First Presbyterian of Aberdeen. It is not affiliated with any religion.

The Toddler program enrolls children 12 months – 3 years. It meets Thursday either 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. or 5:45 – 7:45 p.m.

The Preschool program enrolls children 3 – 5 years. It meets Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays either 9:10 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

You can learn more at the school’s website, http://www.raindropcooperative.org/, or on their Facebook page.

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