This is part 4 of my interview with Marilee Cosgrove of the Fullerton School District. Our focus was on “Lessons Learned” –what does an effective quality pre-school program in a public school district look like?
Q: So, for the first time, casual visitor, what’s different about your program?
A: One difference is …. you won’t see a lot of structure and a lot of downtime in terms of carpet time. Just our environment – You’re not going to see bulletin boards, and floor to ceiling butcher paper with all of this stimulation. We take great care in determining the aesthetics of the environment to make sure it is supportive of children’s learning. We don’t use mass-produced …. well, we do use math games, but we don’t use pre-packaged curriculum, or pre-packaged products. They’re not going to sort out little teddy bears, they’re going to sort out different kinds of rocks. That kind of thing. That’s one of the main things.
A: When children use natural materials, they sort automatically … it’s incredible to see in the documentation the teachers have, what they do … by color, small to big, shape, sizes, everything – they sort, in their own time, following their natural drives, instead to being told what to do. They automatically sort, then they make patterns – they go forward on their own – it’s math.
A: So how do all of these quality natural materials fit in your budget?
Q: The materials we use in the classroom are more economical than anything we could purchase, anything that’s manufactured. And reusable. That’s not the main thing, but it’s necessary.
Q: So how you deal with the budget when you were starting up?
A: People get tangled up in that stuff. Do you want me to be honest? You have to get over “I can’t do this.” No Can’t. “Can’t was killed in the battle with tried.” There are very few things I can’t do …I can’t over-spend, I can’t do field trips, but anyone says “can’t” – then it’s just over. Can’t is a big inhibitor. It kills the possibilities – and for people to be excited in their job, they need to have possibilities. It’s so much more fun for anyone to do their job when they can get excited about the possibilities. Just like for a child – you want to be exploring the possibilities, always.
I’m older and experienced, so I know you can’t say “we tried that, we tried that” I have to join the teachers, just like I’d join the kids, in saying “That’s a new idea – let’s see what happens.” What they discover, and what’s new for them … that has to be new to me, too.
Q: How about an example?
A: Someone says “we want to eat breakfast and lunch outside.” So I’ll say “right now, it’s not possible, but …” I don’t want to say “can’t” but I will say “the picnic tables we have aren’t the right size for licensing, or for our kids. But if there is a way that we can make this makes sense, we’ll get the tables we need – we will eat on picnic blankets on the ground, let’s experiment.
Then off they go – towards our group goal.
Q : So everyone works in the same direction.
A: Yeah – you have to, to support higher expectations. It’s really how you send your message. The bottom line is “this is what we’re gonna do – end of story.” But I don’t say it like that. And if I am in a classroom and I see a need, I give them quick support – you need to have discretion to “just do it.” I don’t have to ask permission – I’m the Director. So if they want something that works, I’ll get it for them. Purchasing could say “No” but they don’t, because they get what we’re doing. You just get them what they need – But here’s the trick: usually it’s one of the types of support that’s not financial that makes a difference – Money is only one resource.