Creating a Cooperative Preschool
Arlington’s population grew rapidly during World War II, as people flooded the area to work for the government in support of the war effort. As many stayed after the war, Arlington found its school system, which had previously served a much smaller and more more rural population, stretched thin.
On August 7, 1945, fifteen young mothers met in Hazel Mahler’s home in North Arlington, determined to ensure their toddlers received the best education available. At the time, the county did not have public kindergarten classes and there were few preschools and daycare centers. Parents realized they needed to step up to make sure their children received an education. Mahler had tried to enroll her child in one of Arlington’s only preschools, Rock Spring Cooperative, but she found it full. Undeterred, she organized a meeting with other interested parents to discuss how they could work together to provide a reasonably-priced education for their young children.
These mothers decided to start their own cooperative preschool. They could write the school’s constitution and governing documents, hire a teacher, help out in the classroom, manage the finances, and secure and maintain the school facilities. They decided to name the school Overlee Preschool, after the Overlee-Knolls neighborhood many of them resided in.
Overlee Preschool opened on October 8, 1945, in the Resurrection Lutheran Church on Washington Boulevard and North Powhatan Street in Arlington.
The program emphasized social and emotional development through play, art, music, nature, and field trips. By 1947, Overlee provided kindergarten classes, as well as a nursery class for children aged three and four.
Each mother was required to help every other week as a teacher’s assistant in the classrooms, as well as drive carpools, chaperone field trips, and attend to administrative duties. Fathers did repair and maintenance for the facilities, until the late 1970s, when more fathers began to help in the classroom as well.
After Arlington County finally integrated kindergarten classes into the public-school system, Overlee discontinued kindergarten services, but eventually offered classes for two-year-olds, in addition to three and four-year-olds.
Today, Overlee Preschool still operates out of the Church of the Covenant on Military Road, making it one of the oldest, continuously operating preschools in Arlington.