The El Cerrito Preschool Cooperative has been around since 1940. To commemorate that long history in our community, we are sharing a series of stories from people who experienced ECPC over the years. If you went to ECPC in years past, as a child or parent, please email your story to marketing(at)ecpckids.com for possible publication on this blog. Thanks!
Teacher Ann, former ECPC director
When did you work at ECPC? 1980-2012
Can you tell a bit about the history of ECPC and how it impacts the school?
It started in 1940 in a church basement during the war. It was mostly mothers.
Then they got the [current] site and built the building — the wing closest to the bay was the original building.
A few years later they built the rest of the building. They hired a director at some point in the ‘40s, who was there for many years.
Eventually, fathers were starting to be more involved in their families and in the school. Fathers started being on the board and participating.
One day, I saw a guy standing outside the fence looking at the building and he said, “I helped build that building.” Knowing those stories makes ECPC very rich.
I think it’s important to remember that history. There haven’t been that many directors [over the years]. [Teacher] Nga was one of my parents. [Teacher] Jenny also was a parent in my program. And [Teacher] Par came on with me.
Can you talk about ECPC’s philosophy as it’s developed over the years?
The philosophy has always kind of been the free play philosophy. As I was there, I grew stronger in that feeling and [educator and writer] Bev Bos had a lot to do with my thinking.
If you give kids the right opportunities and environment, they can think on their own and develop confidence. People throw around “free play” pretty loosely, I think, but … at ECPC, the area that was used the most was the self-help area. When I saw kids swarming around that and ignoring my water paints or whatever, I thought we were doing something right.
Kids need that free time – you can’t keep pushing them, that it’s time for this, it’s time for that. They get so much of that freedom. We changed snack [from a set time] so that it was all morning, and that felt really good when we did that.
I run into former ECPC parents whose kids are in their 30s now. And there are a lot of great stories about people continuing on with their kids on how to look at life. It’s fun to hear.
What do you think is special about ECPC?
The community and the connection with the parents and the kids and the staff is unique. There’s probably no other job like it, because you’re hired by the parents and then you turn around and direct them. That community working together for the best for the kids can be a wonderful experience for everybody involved.
When I was there, the school almost got closed. The city wanted to take the land away and they did their best to get rid of the school. The parents went all the way to Sacramento to fight that. Parents even said they would start living in the school so the city couldn’t take it. At that point the school was out of money and people were loaning money to the school. But they saved ECPC.