Aubrey Strong, age 4, enjoys playing kitchen at the new preschool. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

After years of rising enrollment and long waiting lists, the Key Peninsula Cooperative Preschool opens its third location, housed at Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church on McEwan Road NW in Lakebay, with classes officially beginning Sept. 13.

The KP Cooperative Preschool (KPCP) has operated continuously since the early ’70s, housed in recent decades at both Evergreen and Vaughn Elementary schools under an agreement with the Peninsula School District. With no room to expand into Minter Creek Elementary School the chances of finding suitable, affordable part time rental space to expand north of Key Center looked slim. 

For parents with preschoolers, there are few options available on the Key Peninsula. Most of those involve money, travel and time. Meghan Conant, the KPCP board member who manages enrollment for nearly 65 families said, “We are geographically isolated. If you can’t get into preschool here, the alternative is commuting to Gig Harbor or Port Orchard where preschool tuition can cost $400 or $500 per month. Our monthly prices range from $70 to $130.” 

“We were looking for a place pretty much anywhere on the Key,” KPCP President Carrie Koehnke said. All the available spaces they visited were either too small or already had groups using the space at other times throughout the week. “Besides,” Koehnke said, “I really didn’t know how we’d be able to afford it.” 

“I thought to myself, there just had to be something,” KPCP board member Brandy Jean said. She used Google Maps and scoped out every single sizable building on the Key Peninsula. “Pastor Ed of Grace Church was the first church we called.” That single phone call became a pivotal moment; doors opened that changed everything. 

“When Grace moved to the Key Peninsula nearly three years ago, one of our main concerns and prayers was how we might serve the community,” said Pastor Ed Longabaugh. Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church was founded in Gig Harbor in 2007, but lost its original site when it was sacrificed for new development. The church used alternative spaces before finding their home in Lakebay. “This building has been a huge blessing to us and we’d been hoping to share the space,” Longabaugh said.

“One of my biggest concerns about using a church was that we would have to put stuff away,” teacher Kolby Ashby said. “On the contrary, Grace Church’s congregation and pastor Ed have been so generous and accommodating.” The church welcomed the preschool to use the space as their own, provided the church could continue using the classroom for Sunday school. 

“Our whole congregation has been watching the changes, and we’re so very pleased to see this taking shape,” Longabaugh said. “The preschool board has been terrific to work with, and the spaces they’re using have been upgraded––a blessing to us.” 

The upgraded space, coupled with a generous grant from the Angel Guild, is equipped with tables and chairs, shelves, play tables and work stations for “construction,” a completely outfitted play kitchen and more. Outside, the classroom opens up into a fully fenced area for outdoor playtime. Preschool is all about playing and learning. 

“While children learn a lot of academic skills at home, in the classroom setting they learn about following direction as a group and getting along with their peers; these are all things they learn in preschool,” Jean said. 

“Standing in line is a huge skill,” Ashby said. “For preschoolers who aren’t ready to stand in a line or sit quietly at circle time, just learning to wait is a skill. It’s good for their brains to practice patience.” She said great progress can take place in kindergarten if students go prepared after learning these skills in preschool. 

“At KP Cooperative Preschool we believe fundamentally that children learn best through play,” Ashby said. “Our goal is for children to walk into these classrooms and feel ownership of their classroom and environment. We want them to feel safe with their friends and their teacher; we want them to feel completely free to explore and to love what they’re doing.”

“Preschool is all about the kids. The money, the parents, the other components involved are crucial,” Ashy said. “It’s basically just about the kids having a safe place to learn and grow. It may sound generic but it’s so powerful. I think the co-op kids are meant to grow and be amazing.”

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