“The experience went beyond the classroom for both the children and the parents. I am still in contact with many of the parents that I met during our preschool years” -Marsha Zaidman, parent of FPI students, 1977-1982

Fredericksburg Cooperative, or FPI as it became later known, began forty years ago in a small building near Mary Washington College. The first students to arrive in 1977 met with their teacher, Sharon Miller, and co-founder, Jackie Vawter, a Mary Washington Education professor.  They explored their world with puzzles, arts and crafts, stories and many local field trips.  Many of the field trips included trips to Shannon airport, the Rappahannock river, dairy farms, and even apple picking at local orchards.

This cooperative relationship between the teachers and parents was founded on a mutual focus, the children. One of the earliest parents, Marsha Zaidman said that her children learned “that school was a place where you learned and that learning was fun.” She also felt that since it was one of the only two preschools not associated with a religious organization, “the whole family commitment made it special.”

The Free Lance Star documents some of FPI's early years.

The Free Lance Star documents some of FPI’s early years.

The Free Lance Star documented many of the early years at FPI as it developed into the great preschool it is today! The newspaper photographed local visitors like Lynn Gambell and Gail Rouse, who showed the preschoolers how clowns transformed their faces. This way, students were not scared, but transfixed as they went from people to creative characters!

Lynn Gambell and Gail Rouse dress up as clowns to show the art of dress-up!

Lynn Gambell and Gail Rouse dress up as clowns to show the art of dress-up!

Some of the later parents and alumni got to experience many of the same trips to the Rappahannock, and some new experiences like donating Christmas trees to families in need and even touring a Hilldrup Van Line truck that had something called a computer in it!

Theresa Yates, a mother of a student in the 1985 class said that she “remembered the parents coming together to make each school day for the children successful. We often took the simplest things like refrigerator boxes,  made them into train cars and watched as the students had the best time climbing in pretending to be engineers and passengers.” She felt this creativity and positive collaboration gave her daughter “the tools to begin her education with a positive attitude.”

Jennifer Yates on a rope swing at FPI, 1979-80

Jennifer Yates on a rope swing at FPI, 1979-80

After being incorporated, Fredericksburg Cooperative became known as Fredericksburg Preschool, Inc.  Then, a few years later in the 1986-1987 school year, FPI moved to its current and final location at Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church where it has been flourishing for the last twenty-five years!

Alumni, Jennifer Benson, formerly, Jennifer Yates, said that “as a student at FPI, I learned to create. I learned to love literature, music and art…I learned that the best way to see if something works is to try it out.” These are the foundation of FPI as we look forward to forty more years of encouraging students to grow into mature, thoughtful and creative individuals!

We welcome any additional feedback from our alumni! We would love to here from you! Please contact us at with any great memories or accomplishments. Thank you!