By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Some of us might drive along Northeast 33rd Avenue and not notice the little house that’s home to Schoolita Alegria, a fun and creative preschool where children receive a bilingual education with Spanish as a second language.
The school’s staff has been teaching little tykes since 1995. Perhaps the success of Schoolita Alegria, located at 1814 N.E. 33rd Ave., is due in part to its small class size (only ten students) and its convenient location (just a couple of blocks from the entrance to I-84). But the main reason that Schoolita Alegria has lasted 20 years stems from the dedication of its founder and head teacher Alegria Cupit and colleague Greys Franke.
“I love teaching kids,” Cupit said. “The age range of our kids is from three to five years. You just have to expose them to Spanish, and they soak up everything like a sponge. They see the thing and hear how you pronounce what it is, and by the next time you say it, they put it all together. It goes that fast.”
Singing is one of the main methods that Cupit and Franke use to teach the children. Cupit estimates that they use approximately 40 songs over the course of a school year. They also involve the kids in games and art activities. The kids always go outside to the backyard when the weather is nice to play or create something.
Schoolita Alegria’s school year runs from September to June. The class day starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., but parents can make arrangements to drop off or pick up kids outside of those hours. The children bring their own lunches, and snacks are provided by the parents on a rotating schedule.
“All of the parents are jewels,” Cupit said. “I’ve had the best of luck. Things always work out. Some families made shelves and built a fence in trade for tuition.”
Cupit grew up in a big family near Austin, Texas, and has a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Southwest Texas University. She spent five years in Mexico, initially studying at an arts school in San Miguel, located in central Mexico. Then she got a job teaching English in Cuernavaca, which is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its beautiful landscape and climate.
“Some people wondered why I would bother to come back to the states,” Cupit said, “but I missed my country; and I would have had to marry into the Mexican culture to open a business and stay there, and I didn’t want to do that.”
Cupit tried Seattle and Eugene before settling in Portland. She fell in love with the city and taught Spanish to kids. She then found work at Hollywood Dance and Fitness, which had a preschool.
After it closed, a number of parents asked her to start her own preschool. That’s when she came up with the idea of Schoolita Alegria, found the cottage on Northeast 33rd Avenue and asked Franke, who also worked at Hollywood Dance and Fitness, to assist her in teaching.
Schoolita Alegria incorporates Montessori and Waldorf ideas into its educational style. It also uses Reggio Emilio techniques in which the students help to decide what to do.
“With Reggio Emilio, you try to help manifest what the kids would like,” explained Cupit. “They love that because it empowers them. For example, we often use that technique on an art project.”
During July and August, Schoolita Alegria offers a summer camp. According to Cupit, a number of alumni come back. They are attracted to summer camp because it offers more Spanish and is less academic.
“The kids get to do all of the fun stuff that they didn’t do during the school year,” said Cupit, “a lot of games, outdoor time, and a lot of art.”
Schoolita Alegria has relied entirely on word-of-mouth advertising to attract new students. Interested parents can contact Cupit at moc.a1508712814irgel1508712814a-ati1508712814loohc1508712814s@air1508712814gela1508712814 or 503-288-5574 to set up an appointment to take a tour.
Cupit loves to stay in touch with the kids who have studied with her.
“Some of the kids who were in the very first preschool classes have now graduated from college,” said Cupit. “It’s pretty amazing!”