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 Grant Street Elementary School campus. The continued success of OPEPO is heavily dependent upon family involvement both inside and outside the classroom.

Mission Statement

OPEPO is devoted to cultivating the whole child in an engaging, respectful, inquiry-based environment with an emphasis on community and family involvement.

Educational Philosophy

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. Three important features of distinguish the OPEPO program from the conventional classroom:

• Multi-age classroom structure
• Inquiry-based approach to learning
• Emphasis on active parent participation

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.


Parents' Responsibilities

By enrolling in OPEPO, each family commits t volunteering time in the classroom (either regularly or for special events such as field trips), and serving on at least one committee. Monthly parent meetings are an essential part of the program.

Providing volunteer help in the classroom on a regular basis: For parents whose schedule precludes regular in-classroom work, other projects such as field trips or book orders are available. Having parents actively involved with the children's daily life is an essential facet of the program. OPEPO doesn't work without parent participation.

Attending monthly parent meetings: These are held one evening a month and last roughly 2 hours. Parent meetings are a forum for community dialogue and sharing of information; decisions are made by consensus. Child care is usually available.
Being a member of and regularly attending meetings of at least one committee or special project task force: Parents are expected to attend scheduled committee meetings. Standing committees include: Enrollment, Vision, Fundraising, Enrichment, and Frameworks. Committees typically meet monthly for roughly an hour. Throughout the year, special projects may create additional opportunities to get involved with OPEPO. All committees send a representative to a monthly Steering Committee meeting, which sets the agenda for the Parent Meeting.

Being aware of and involved with your child’s program: This happens through frequent contact with OPEPO staff, by attending parent conferences, by talking with your child about school, and by reading the weekly Friday Letter.

Understanding and accepting OPEPO’s philosophy, as outlined in this Parent Handbook.

Student Responsibilities

By enrolling in OPEPO, each student commits to
Setting goals acceptable to the student, parents, and teachers.

Self-evaluating to track the student’s progress toward set goals.

Sharing information and knowledge with other students.

Taking responsibility for student’s own learning.

Respecting others, their differences, and their right to learn in a safe and caring environment.

Caring for materials, equipment, and the classroom.

Serving the school in some way -- contributing something that makes OPEPO better (i.e. finding a job that needs doing and doing it, school recycling, etc.)

Teacher/Facilitator Responsibilities

The OPEPO Teacher is a facilitator of learning. In order for children toconstruct their own knowledge, they must have access to a wide variety of sources and experiences, including hands-on activities, museums, encyclopedias, the Internet, films, resource people, field work, and trips into the community. OPEPO teachers encourage students to pursue individual interests and construct new understanding through an inquiry process based on personal experience, experimentation, and research. Accommodating diverse learning styles and interests also requires teachers to stimulate new areas of study within the scope of the district-mandated curriculum.

By agreeing to teach OPEPO, teachers commit to

Using a child-centered approach as the basis of learning and community decisions.

Providing activities that integrate areas of learner interest.

Assessing each child’s learning style, special interests, and level of development.

Working with parents and children to create and work toward academic and social/emotional goals.

Helping children follow through in meeting their goals with periodic self-evaluation.

Evaluating each child’s progress by maintaining a portfolio and writing an end-of-year summary.

Helping children develop the social skills needed to express their feelings in appropriate ways, be sensitive towards others’ feelings, negotiate and reach consensus, and to work successfully in a variety of groups.

Maintaining an environment conducive to learning by expecting students to take responsibility for care of materials and classroom.

Giving a monthly "classroom report" at the Parent Meeting.

Attending Parent Meetings and special committee meetings, where appropriate.


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.
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