Past . . . Present . . . Future

The History of Chelsea Children’s Cooperative Preschool

The Chelsea Children’s Cooperative Preschool began with a phone call from Camie Noah to North Lake United Methodist Church Pastor’s wife, Rose Weeks, suggesting that there was a need for rural children to play together. Following this phone call, a group of several friends and their children began working together, meeting at each other’s homes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The group started on March 1, 1972. The future dream was to start a cooperative preschool in the North Lake United Methodist Church Youth building in September of 1972.

By September of 1972, the group had grown to twelve families with Camie Noah as the teacher and Rose Weeks as the Treasurer. This was a volunteer project and all the funds went towards the future occupancy of the youth building. The church building was not completed until January of 1973, so the children met at the Noah home. Then, in January, came the disheartening news that, although the church building had met all county and state requirements, the State Fire Inspector insisted that another exit for the building be added, for a daycare center license. The church agreed to take on the project with financial support from members of the preschool so that the preschool could open in the Fall of 1973.

Loree Stafford took over as a volunteer teacher in March of 1973 and gave constant help and encouragement in setting up the North Lake Co-op Preschool.

In 1975, North Lake Co-op Preschool applied for and received the status of non-profit organization and became incorporated.

During the Summer of 1981, new fire safety regulations again became a problem. The necessary building alterations would have been financially imprudent, so North Lake Co-op Preschool had to move to a new site.

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Old US 12 became the school’s new home. With the church’s cooperation and extensive work from members, the facility was ready for occupancy in September of 1981.

Loree Stafford retired in 1986 after the school year ended in May. Marilyn Van Gunst was hired as teacher and director of the program. She was employed from the Summer of 1986 to 1987 when her husband’s job forced them to relocate out of state.

The move from North Lake to St. Barnabas lead to the decision to rename the school. On March 8, 1988, the school officially became Chelsea Children’s Cooperative, Incorporated.

Jane Brooks joined the staff in 1987 and served as director and teacher until handing over directorship to Courtney Aldrich in 2004. Janie was instrumental in starting the Early Childhood Coalition in Chelsea and has been an active member of that organization. She has her bachelor’s degree in education and attended graduate school at Michigan State University in the area of Child Development. She also attended yearly conferences.

Sue Gillikin became a part time employee in 1987. She acted as a “paid assist” to help parents who were unable to work in the classroom. The following year she helped develop the two- year old program and also team-taught the three year old program with Janie. Sue and Janie worked together until Sue left in 1994.

Nancy Hanselman and Janie Bowdish were involved in the Co-op as classroom aides over the next few years, but at that time Janie was the school’s sole paid employee.

In 1998, the school changed its location once again. It moved from the church to Chelsea’s Community Center (the old Chelsea High School). The move itself was completed in less than two weeks and before school was scheduled to start. Many people were responsible for making the transition to a new facility as smooth as possible. An open house and dedication ceremony was held in October.

In the summer of 2004, the preschool moved to the Chelsea Center for the Arts on Congdon St. Many families were involved in renovating the two downstairs rooms transforming them into bright classrooms. A play structure, sandbox and trike track was installed in the former parking lot.

In the Fall of 2004, Courtney Aldrich, a former Co-op parent, was employed by the school to teach the three year old sessions while Janie Brooks continued to teach the four year olds. Janie finally retired in the Spring of 2014.

In the Fall of 2008, the Co-op began offering a brand new Young 5’s program in addition to its 2, 3 and 4 year old programs. This program is unique in that it serves children who are eligible for Kindergarten but need one more year of preschool, or who may be ready for Kindergarten but don’t meet the age cutoff. This is the first time the Co-op has offered two classes taught simultaneously by different teachers. Michelle Hochrein was the first to lead this class, and has also been taught by Amy Downer, Debbie Gessell and Lena Carrara.

The summer of 2014 had two major changes for our Preschool. Claire Baushke became Director of the Coop and teacher of the 3 and 4 year olds. She was a former Coop parent and aide in the Young 5s class. She showed true leadership as we changed the location of our preschool in August. The CCA closed and the preschool was moved to WSEC (Washington Street Education Complex).

The young 5’s program was discontinued in the 2018-2019 school year when there wasn’t enough attendance for the year. The coop’s need for the programs that are offered is based on the needs of the community and decided by its teachers and its members. Lena Carrara is now teaching the mixed age 3 and 4 year old class along with Lorin Kummer.

During the summer of 2019 the Coop moved to its new location inside of St. Paul United Church of Christ located at 14600 E Old US HWY 12. The teachers, parents, and children worked really hard on the move. The parents even helped to dig out the old fence around the standing playground to make room for a brand new playground. The new playground was built with the aid of a local grant from 5 healthy towns.

Past and present cooperative families are proud of our school’s fine reputation and tradition of excellence. Not only do we provide a solid and educationally sound first school experience for children in our community, but we support parents by giving them opportunities to network with each other and to practice developmentally appropriate parenting techniques while they interact with children and other adults in the classroom. Many parents have gone on to become extremely active and involved in school and community affairs. A few mothers have become teachers in other early childhood programs.

Chelsea Children’s Cooperative continues to thrive today because of the commitment of its members.