With move, preschool aims to serve a new generation

Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool now has both larger classroom space and a more expansive playground — as well as a long-term lease.

Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool (VMCP) has a new home — and according to its teachers, it’s just about all they could ask for.

This September, the non-profit school, founded on Vashon in 1970, opened the doors to an airy classroom at Sunrise Ridge, which comes complete with an expanded outdoor playground and the promise of tons of fun to come.

“We’re so incredibly grateful to be able to work with Sunrise Ridge,” said Jordan Balcom, VMCP board member.

Her list of advantages to the new home is long. It offers a larger footprint inside and out, more classroom storage, proximity to Chautauqua Elementary School, convenient and safe parking — and with affordable rent, the opportunity to expand VMCP’s scholarship program. And all of that is locked in, with a 10-year lease.

Molly Wilson, one of two teachers working for VMCP, echoed Balcom’s enthusiasm.

“We’re so excited about this new space,” she said.

While the raw space itself offered exactly the right potential, it took plenty of work to optimize it as a classroom.

The preschool now occupies an area of the building that many islanders still remember as the furniture annex of Granny’s Attic, prior to the thrift store’s move to the town core. More recently, it had been used as a storage facility for Vashon Opera.

This past summer, parent volunteers worked countless hours with professional contractors to transform it into a bright and cheerful classroom that welcomes dozens of families each week.

Currently, VMCP serves 50 students and 42 actively involved families. For those families, the cooperative preschool model requires parent involvement to succeed — even without renovation projects.

VMCP families are expected to give time to the school, in the classroom or in other ways, throughout their enrollment.

Parents are also students — meeting monthly with one of two VMCP parent educators, who provide support and information about early childhood development milestones, parenting and educational strategies, and more.

“We love the parent involvement in the cooperative model for how it enriches families, but also how it brings so much community,” said Wilson. “Kids see parents they know — at the store, the library, playgrounds — [and that] helps the kids feel valued and part of a larger community.”

Wilson holds a master of education degree, as does baby and toddler educator Alex Drissell. Parent educators Tami Brockway Joyce and Kara Hill both provide parent education via adjunct relationships with North Seattle Community College.

These staff members’ efforts are amplified by a host of volunteers and parents.

“We pride ourselves on our unique structure of being a volunteer, parent-run school,” Balcom said, who explained that the preschool’s volunteer structure made it possible for VMCP to provide full or partial scholarships to 15% of its enrolled families.

The preschool has a 50-plus year history on the island and has now served multiple generations in multiple settings — most recently, in the Land Trust Building.

Teacher Molly Wilson recalled working on the preschool’s playground with her father when she was enrolled as a toddler, and the school was located at the Burton Community Church.

“I was getting in the way more than helping,” she said, with a smile.

Regardless of her role back then, her cherished memory emphasizes the rich, full-circle experience the long-running organization brings to the island. That positive spirit also permeates VMCP’s new home at Sunrise Ridge — a storied place on Vashon run by another nonprofit enterprise, Sunrise Ridge Health Service.

At Sunrise Ridge — a former Nike missile site — VMCP has now joined other tenants including Voice of Vashon, Vashon Veteran’s Retreat Center, and other nonprofits. Another anchor tenant at the site, Vashon Food Bank, will soon move to a new location. Vashon’s Sunrise Ridge medical clinic has long been a fixture at the site.

But for now, VMCP is bringing new vitality to the property, said Greg Martin, board chair of Sunrise Ridge Health Services.

“Having the kids and families up there is a real joy,” said Martin.