Our Story

The Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool was founded in 1969 by community and college parents who were intrigued by the possibility of being involved with their children’s education. It is a non-profit, non-denominational, non-discriminatory school run by a Parent Board. After brief stays elsewhere, the Co-op found a home at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where it is regarded as part of the church’s outreach program. The school’s tradition of fostering healthy families and its long-term scholarship program meshed well with the church’s commitment to weekday use of its facilities, and the relationship has continued for nearly 40 years.

Our hallmarks are the unique enrichment of parent involvement, and the liveliness and diversity of our experiential learning environment. Our belief in children’s joy in discovery, and the particular charm added when teachers, children, and parents come together in the classroom, are central to our philosophy.

Our Philosophy

We believe children 2 ½ -5 can be taught almost anything. We choose to create an environment that allows them to teach themselves as much as possible by exploration and discovery, building confidence and competence. We don’t wish upon them a veneer of learning acquired to please adults, but promote self-motivated, practiced listening skills and a love of learning for its own sake.

Just as discipline and courtesy must be internalized to work well, so building blocks of learning must be embraced before more overtly academic approaches can succeed. Lots of pencil and paper tasks lie ahead of them in school. When asked to write something, we want them to have something to write about! Current brain research tells us that children have one minute of focused attention span for each year of age—for tasks not of their own choosing. We owe it to children to help them use their time well, so that they—and we—can be lifelong learners.

Our Staff

Meet the teachers who make Co-op so special.

Sarah Lichtel

Sarah Lichtel


Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher (except for a brief stint when I thought I wanted to be a cleaning lady!). I spent most of my teenage years babysitting, then went off to college, earning my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with certification to teach pre-K through sixth grade. During college, I also worked as a counselor with young children at a noncompetitive nature camp.

I started my teaching career in WJCC as a substitute, working primarily at what is now Laurel Lane, and then was hired as a third-grade teacher at Clara Byrd Baker. I taught there for two years before moving to Stonehouse to teach third grade.  Eventually, I became a reading interventionist, working with kindergarteners through fifth graders in need of literacy support. After my second daughter was born, I decided to stay home and start work on my master’s degree in Literacy Leadership from William and Mary. Upon completion of this degree, and just when I was thinking about heading back to the classroom, I found out I was having my third daughter.  When she turned one, I focused on completing my Orton-Gillingham certification, which I have utilized to privately tutor children with dyslexia.

My connection to Co-op spans the last 10 years. During my first year away from the classroom, my oldest daughter started at Co-op as a three-year-old. I knew of Co-op because our beloved neighbor and longtime Co-op director, Susan Axtell, shared all about its wonders. From my first visit to Co-op, I understood what she was talking about, and I knew it was the place for our family. All three of my daughters have attended Co-op, so I have spent much time in the classroom learning from the exceptional teachers, creating lifelong memories with my children (they all speak fondly of their Co-op days), and forging bonds with fellow parents. Additionally, I had the privilege of being the Co-op Board President for five of my 10 years. It is an exciting move, and an extreme privilege, for me to now become the director of Co-op. I look forward to working alongside the teachers, parents, and, most especially, the children!

Erica Dovel

Erica Dovel

One-Day 2's teacher

I am so honored to be the One-Day 2’s teacher this year! As an educator, my goal is to create a warm, welcoming environment for our littlest learners!

While earning my bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Mary Washington, I worked in museum education at the Virginia Aquarium and then at the Jamestown Settlement. Both places helped to foster my belief in inquiry-based learning. I believe students learn best through interacting with their environment and exploring on their own terms. I completed my master's degree in Elementary Education and began my teaching career in Virginia Beach Public Schools before relocating to Williamsburg. I’ve taught for eight years in grades pre-K, three, and five.

My family joined Co-op when my daughter was in the One-Day 2’s class. We fell in love with the play-based and parent participation philosophy of Co-op! It was an inspiration to see my daughter thrive in the classroom. My heart is so full at the prospect of being a Co-op parent and teacher! When I’m not teaching or volunteering in the classroom, I enjoy exploring the local trails, crafting and baking with my kids, and reading.


Emma McMillan

Assistant Director and Four-Day 4's teacher

I come from a business background with various business jobs such as cost accountant. I began my preschool career by substituting at my children’s preschool in Phoenix, AZ. The preschool transitioned into a parent participation preschool in 1986. I was offered a four-year-old teacher position with two parents helping in the classroom. I attended teacher training workshops and classes during my four years in Phoenix.

Our family moved to Williamsburg in 1990 and I became an avid volunteer at Waller Mill Elementary where my children attended. I was hired as a Special Education aide for one year before the opportunity to apply at the Williamsburg Co-op arose. I received the Four-day 4’s & 5’s position in 1992 and have enjoyed four-year-olds for 25 years.

I continue to attend early childhood conference workshops as well as having received training as an “observer” for Preschool Partners, an organization created in Newport News, VA, to help early childhood programs meet the needs of preschoolers.


Grace Cunningham

Three-Day 3's teacher

I earned a bachelor’s degree in English (I love stories!) from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a master’s degree in Education from American University in Washington, DC.  While teaching in the DC public school system, I became passionate about empowering children with strategies for coping with the challenges of life. During the summers, I worked as an instructor in outdoor education programs designed to build self-confidence and promote environmental awareness.

We became a Co-op family after relocating to Williamsburg in 1993. I was pursuing post graduate work in Education at William & Mary. My reading and lectures came to life while working in my son’s Co-op classroom. I fell in love with the Co-op philosophy and the amazing teachers who shared their exuberance for learning with my own children. When I was offered a teaching position, my heart filled with gratitude. In 2004, I left the Co-op classroom for a full-time teaching position at Matthew Whaley.

I am certified in yoga and mindfulness through Little Flower Yoga which supports the School Yoga Project in NYC. I just started a yearlong training with Mindful Schools. During a recent workshop I was gifted a bag with the logo printed on it. The logo reads “…awareness, empathy, kindness, compassion in schools.” Co-op embodies these qualities.