What is OPEPO (OPtional Education PrOgram)?
OPEPO is a 1st-5th grade alternative multi-age program within the Port Townsend Public School District, where students work cooperatively with two teacher/facilitators. Currently, OPEPO is comprised of approximately 40-50 students occupying a double classroom on the Salish Coast Elementary School campus. The continued success of OPEPO is heavily dependent upon family involvement both inside and outside the classroom.
OPEPO Enrichment Activities
OPEPO’s parent volunteers work with the teachers to provide enrichment activities that complement the classroom learning, incorporating the talents of the parent body and community through additional activities.
OPEPO is devoted to cultivating the whole child in an engaging, respectful, inquiry-based environment with an emphasis on community and family involvement.
Three important features distinguish the OPEPO program from the conventional classroom.
- Multi-age classroom structure.
- Inquiry-based approach to learning.
- Emphasis on active parent participation.
Although our approach to learning may differ from many parents’ own school experiences, it is supported by time-honored educational principles and current research on child-centered learning environments.
Multi-Age Classroom Structure
In OPEPO, the “whole child is cultivated” by recognizing that children are social beings who possess an inherent desire to learn. Multi-age classrooms have an advantage in this. Working with a child over a period of years provides OPEPO teachers with valuable insight into that child’s cognitive, social, and emotional growth as they develop over time. Children engaged in a multiage setting are also offered a “real-world” social environment where they can find a variety of role models and deepen their learning through mentoring. By viewing themselves as competent, OPEPO students develop a positive regard for others and their accomplishments. These interactions promote a family feeling and provide a secure social unit for all members of the OPEPO community.
Inquiry-Based Approach to Learning
OPEPO teachers are facilitators of learning, asking open-ended questions such as:
- What do you wonder about?
- What problems do you wish you could solve?
- What resources do you need to help you find out what you want to know?
Over time, children who are engaged in this way become independent learners who approach learning with confidence and joy while exploring their own interests, skills, and learning styles. The critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills developed through the process of inquiry will serve them all of their lives.
Emphasis on Active Parent Participation
The OPEPO community does not begin and end with the school day. The foundation of OPEPO’s ongoing success lies in a relationship that can best be represented as a “three-legged stool”– students, teachers, and families. If any “leg” is missing, the “stool” will be off-balance. Learning is optimized when responsibility and respect are equally shared by child, teacher, and parent. To this end, family members are expected to be routinely involved in the day-to-day functioning of the program, both in the classroom and out. “Family Homework Projects,” potlucks, camping trips, and other activities also serve to strengthen and enrich the OPEPO community.
501(c)3 Parent Association
All parents of currently enrolled OPEPO students automatically become members of the OPEPO Parent Association, an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to strengthen the OPEPO program with volunteer support. The funds supporting OPEPO student enrichment activities primarily come from our fundraising activities, which are organized through this OPEPO Parent Association. As is required of 501(c)(3) organizations, we have a board of directors. This board works closely with our teachers, and school and district administration to provide the education programs, activities and environment we believe are best for our students.
In addition to allowing us to fund additional enrichment activities for students in the OPEPO program such as field trips, theatre performance opportunities, and our annual overnight trip, our 501(c)(3) status lets us raise funds to help provide classroom supplies and to benefit any families who are in need of scholarship support. In recent years, this additional fundraising has also allowed OPEPO to make periodic donations in support of school-wide PTA projects to benefit the greater school community.”
In 1977, Port Townsend School District teachers Chris Jones and Connie Welch, along with a handful of parents, worked together to implement a different educational approach within the framework of the public school system. The original OPEPO program was modeled after an open concept school in Minnesota, and received a grant to partially fund its first year of operation. For its first two years, OPEPO had 25 students. In 1979, enrollment doubled to include a second classroom. OPEPO’s longevity and ongoing success are due in large part to the hard work and foresight of those first dedicated parents and teachers who chose to be closely involved in their children’s education.