Seventy-five years ago, most people in the United States had likely not even heard of preschool. But in Camas, a movement was already underway to help educate the city’s youngest learners.
In 1940, Mrs. Jerry Clary formed the Camas-Washougal Parent Co-op Preschool as a project of the American Association of University Women. The preschool still operates today, making it the longest operating facility of its kind in Clark County.
“The Camas-Washougal Co-op Preschool feels incredibly grateful for the community’s support and involvement that has allowed our co-op to grow from a small in-home collection of kids to a school serving 104 students today,” said Stephanie Frisch, co-op vice president. “It’s 75 years of very involved parents that have allowed the school to thrive.”
On Tuesday, May 5, the school kicked off its diamond anniversary celebration with a visit from Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, whose children, Rachel, 15, and Chloe, 13, attended the preschool.
“It was fun being around all the kids for a bit,” he said. “As my kids have grown, I sometimes forget what a 3- and 4-year-old looks like. We had a fun time singing Happy Birthday to the school.
“I also read a proclamation and a simplified version that said ‘Your school is the oldest around. Your teachers and parents work hard to make this school awesome. Camas Pride!”
For the first few years of its operation, members’ children met in private homes. As the school continued to grow, it was moved to the Camas United Methodist Church.
Enrollment gradually broadened to include children of non-AAUW women and the school became a community preschool, with the AAUW handing over control to a board of parents.
In October 1986, the school moved to the Helen Baller Early Childhood Education Center.
After three years, it was relocated again to St. Thomas Aquinas Religious Education Center, where it remained a secular public preschool.
In 1999, the school moved to its present location at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.
“My children both attended the co-op in the late 90s and I served on the executive board during that time,” recalls Elaine Walker, the school’s 4-year-olds teacher. “Since 2000, I have been a teacher here, starting with the 3’s classes and now teaching all the 4’s classes.”
She continues, “The experience I have had as both a parent and a teacher has been excellent. The co-op is a truly remarkable and unique environment for children to have their first school experience. We are fortunate to have such long-running support from the community and our parents year after year.”
Higgins recalls fond memories of field trips with his children to the pumpkin patch and being a parent helper.
“It has been fun to watch not only my kids grow, but all the other kids we got to know from our time in the preschool,” he said. “I believe preschools like this are just another thing that builds community and helps make Camas such a special place.”
According to a press release, the school’s history, cooperative philosophy, low tuition rates and high teaching standards make it one of the most sought-after early childhood educational programs. “Our goal is to provide a positive introductory learning experience for 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds as a preparatory to elementary education,” Frisch said.