MACEDONIA — Pat Arko remembers what led her to bring her three children to Lollipop Co-Op Preschool.
"It was recommended by a lot of our friends in the neighborhood and back in the day, people waited outside," said Arko. "They had registration at like 8 [a.m.]. People would line up at midnight just to get into the program. It was that popular, with a great reputation and teachers that just did a fantastic job."
The non-profit Lollipop is marking 60 years of providing preschool education to generations of children in an organization that has state-licensed teachers, but is run by the parents themselves.
The anniversary will be celebrated during an open house at the preschool, which is located within the United Methodist Church of Macedonia, 1280 East Aurora Road, on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to noon. During the open house, parents looking for a preschool will be able to tour the classrooms and meet the teachers.
The preschool leases space in the church, but is not affiliated with it. Lollipop is overseen by a board of directors.
"It’s a parent led-board so you have to be a parent," said Board President Laura Raglow.
Arko, whose three children are now all in their 30s, said she was a parent volunteer. But for 28 years now, she has been employed at the school, now serving as administrator and as one of its three teachers. Lollipop also has three teacher assistants.
"I brought my children there and became involved in some of the board positions and then when there was an opening and my children were a little older, I applied for a position," said Arko, who had previously taught at Euclid High School for more than five years.
Raglow said she knew about Lollipop even before she had children because she once worked at a bank that the preschool had an account with. Then when she was looking for a preschool for her older daughter Peyton in 2015, she decided to check out Lollipop.
"Seeing her to school for the first time was terrifying," said Raglow. "I was a stay-at-home mom with her her whole life. Just a lot of anxiety, your first child going to school. We walked in and I expected just a sterile modern environment and it was so — thinking back to when I was in school — so loving, so colorful.
"The teachers came running up to us and introduced themselves. We poked our heads in when class was going on; they invited us into the classroom. I immediately felt like my child was going to be safe there. I knew that if there were any problems, the teachers are so approachable, I could absolutely contact them."
Origins date to 1958
A group of parents first got together in 1958 to begin exploring starting a cooperative preschool. They did the preliminary work of consulting with experts, electing officers, and crafting bylaws. Fathers formed a group to construct large toys and play equipment and in September 1958, the Northfield Presbyterian Cooperative Nursery School started. Over the next two years, the parents revised the school’s bylaws and in 1960, members approved a new constitution.
In 1973, the preschool moved from Northfield Presbyterian Church to Shepard Road Christian Church and adopted a new name, Lollipop Cooperative Preschool. It moved to the Methodist church in 1997 because it needed more space.
In 2004, Lollipop completed the lengthy process of becoming accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Arko said Lollipop currently has 67 students, about the maximum it can take, in classes for children ages 3 to 5. It offers an extended program, as well as an enrichment program based on STEM activities for the older children. Students come not only from the Nordonia Hills communities, but nearby communities as well, such as Hudson, Twinsburg and Aurora, and as far away as Shaker Heights.
Raglow, who still has 4-year-old twins at Lollipop, said that a testament to the education the preschool provides came as her daughter Peyton, now 8, was about to enter kindergarten in Twinsburg.
"They screened her and she scored very high," said Raglow. "And one of her friends who was in her class at Lollipop also scored very high."
She said she was told that this was typical of Lollipop graduates.
"I just think it’s an incredible resource for getting your kids ready for kindergarten," said Raglow.
Parental involvement ‘essential’
Beth Hardy, who serves as Lollipop’s marketing chairwoman, said she became involved with Lollipop last year when her 3-year-old son was enrolled. She likes that the school is parent run, parents handling different jobs based on their skills and experience.
"Every year, those jobs have a potential to turn over," she said. "Students come and go through the program and they age out and go into kindergarten. So it was a tremendous thing to me coming into the school and thinking, ‘Wow, for 60 years there’s been this rotating board of parents that stood the test of time.’
"We have a great continuity in teaching staff, which as a parent who researched many preschool options in the local community, it was just something I wasn’t finding elsewhere."
Raglow said the fact that only parents of current students can serve on the board offers Lollipop a challenge that many other preschools are not faced with. Previously, as the board’s vice president, she was in charge of registration and while giving tours she would also try to recruit parents to become involved.
"Every parent I spoke to, I asked, ‘What do you do for a living? What did you do before you had kids and really engaged them?’ and, ‘Listen, we can use your help to help us with the school,’" she said. "And this year, we just had a phenomenal group of parents that were willing to help us out."
Raglow said some parents are not willing to get involved or they are busy with work. But she sees Lollipop as a "niche" preschool that gives parents an opportunity to be involved with their children’s early education if they can.
Arko said that from a teacher’s perspective, she appreciates the involvement of parents.
"It’s always great to have the parents involved in the classroom," she said. "They get to see first hand what the children are learning. They get to meet their friends. Most of the time or many of the times, the parents actually form a bond with each other.
"The children are lifelong friends and the parents develop a great group of friends themselves. The parents will get together outside of school and remain friends as their children get older."
Arko said she goes to work not really feeling like it is work.
"I’ve really enjoyed my time there. It’s a fantastic group of parents to work with on the board," she said. "It’s a fun job, you know. It’s not really a job because we have so much fun with the children and it’s just a nice place to be."
Go to http://lollipoppreschool.com or call 330-467-6849 for more information.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.