It takes a village: This cooperative childcare center offers more than just a place to drop off kids

Finding quality childcare and preschool can be a discouraging process for families in Detroit. This article is the second in a series that will dig into alternative childcare options for working families. Find the first article here.
 
Detroit Parent Collective (DPC) is both a space and a philosophy.
 
The space is a calming combination of a childcare center for babies and toddlers; a Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia-inspired pre-school for inquisitive kids; and a co-working space for engaged, entrepreneurial parents. 
 
It's small and intimate and feels like home. Shoes are left at the door, and the rooms are decorated with soft colors, natural wood, plants, and photos of the kids.
 
For Natalie Fuoco, a collective member whose 3-year-old son Nicholas attends preschool, the peaceful décor is important. "I love that they're using wood materials, like desks and chairs, so the place is very soft," she says. "What we looked for in particular, compared to other preschools, is a place that wasn't over-stimulating with a lot of plastic."
 
Along with the cozy environment, Detroit Parent Collective has small classrooms, nature-based learning with lots of outdoor time, and a small-persons art workshop.

But it's the work and relaxation spaces for parents that make this place keenly different than most daycare facilities or preschools. The model allows for parents to stay in close proximity to their children, while also supporting children's independent exploration without the parent right beside them.
 
"Parents join forces with the co-educators to curate this holistic feeling for each child in the space," says Krista McClure, founder and director of the DPC.
 
DPC's original space is located in a neighborhood on McNichols Road, between Marygrove College and University of Detroit. It opened in October of 2017, but suffered water damage in August. It then moved to its current spot on 11 Mile Road in Madison Heights, which was meant to be a satellite location. Despite the location change, DPC retained 90 percent of its members.
 
"I think that says a lot about the model, the mission, and the commitment that we have from our families," says McClure.

She hopes to re-open the Detroit space in January, and plans to open another location in Pontiac or Ann Arbor next spring.

Kids painting at Detroit Parent Collective
But well beyond the basics of the physical spaces, Detroit Parent Collective operates with a unique philosophy. And, well, that's a little harder to explain.
 
First off, it's fair and affordable. Because it is a co-op, families purchase memberships (either two or four days a week), which are priced per household, not per child. Memberships cover the cost of preschool, childcare, and the co-working space. McClure did not want to follow the steps of other high-quality early childcare programs by charging the going — and what she considers exploitive — rate.
 
"You're not penalized here for having a set of twins, and you're not penalized for when you want to grow your family," McClure says. "The fact that we have family memberships is critical for a lot of our larger families."
 
As a collective model, smaller families, in essence, help supplement the cost for other families with more children.
 
What comes with the affordable pricing is that parents — or other caregivers like grandparents or nannies — must stay onsite. But they enjoy the benefit of having care providers and teachers for their children while they work, study, volunteer, or relax. Children, in turn, benefit from the socialization.
 
Not surprisingly, many parents work on site. DPC has members who are filmmakers, editors, art directors, caterers, business strategists, and start-up business owners. A quiet office area and a more communal gathering space, Wi-Fi, and plenty of coffee and tea are part of the mix.
 
Fuoco, a job coach and consultant, appreciates being available for her son while benefiting from a six-hour work block that is streamlined by eliminating drop-offs and pick-ups from another location. "I use the workspace, but can still be onsite if the need arises because he's still pretty young," says Fuoco.
 
Parents don't have to be working. They can come for respite, kick up their feet, and read a book. "There's no judgment and there's no shame," McClure says. "Parenting requires a village, so we really made an effort to create that village. Because it's hard to find."

Detroit Parent Collective Founder Krista McClura with Emory, a regular at DPC 
As part of the co-op, parents contribute in ways they are able. One parent might assist in the classroom, another might bring a bag of healthy snacks to stock the fridge, or another teach an art class. But they all contribute to the collective in some way.
 
"We don't dictate the rules around what we want from our families," says McClure. "We understand that every family has varying needs and responsibilities so we work with what they're able to offer."
 
While some DPC families have the resources to afford a Bright Horizons or Waldorf preschool, many cannot. That's something McClure is acutely aware of — she was a high school dropout, got pregnant at 18, and lived in a women's shelter at one point. The obstacles she faced are always close at hand when dealing with other "at-risk" families. 

McClure wants to work with those who are financially strapped "because I know what it was like to only have so much money. There's always ups and downs." 
 
Another less tangible, but prominent, aspect of DPC is the sense of community. For Maci Wescott, whose 2-year-old son Jack attends preschool, she likes the learning atmosphere, but also collaborating with others who are civically engaged and have more progressive leanings.
 
"I was surprised how much I want to be engaged in this community," says Wescott. 

As a business strategist and consultant for online business owners, she needed a space to work, but wanted her child to be with other kids, rather than have a care provider come to her home.
 
Phylicia Thomas, who is working with her husband to build a food and wine education business, also believes the community makes the DPC experience unique. With a 3-year-old and 21-month-old in care, she likes the discussions with other parents about the goals they have for their children.
 
"I enjoy being in a place with purpose and around people who have purpose," Thomas says.

And that's what McClure had hoped to create: a space for parents to find other like-minded families who may be questioning current politics or the education landscape in Detroit and want to have conscious conversations.

"In that way, I would say we're a very radical space," McClure says. "We have families who are thinking outside of the box and want to find a common ground around other families who are also thinking outside of the box."
 
This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.

Photos by Melinda Clynes.

Read more articles by Melinda Clynes.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Model D. She is the statewide project editor of Michigan Kids, a series of stories that highlight what’s working to improve outcomes for Michigan children. View her online portfolio here.
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