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Children’s School celebrates 85 years

Kids watch incubating eggs in a current class. (All photos courtesy of Betty Lin.)

The Mills College Children’s School will be celebrating a historic event: 85 years of teaching and caring for children of the surrounding community.

“The School is the oldest and most respected lab school (a training institution for the College) where students learn to teach,” said Kathy Schultz, Dean of the School of Education.

While the school’s original purpose was to prepare young women for becoming nursery school teachers, it has found it necessary to expand its purpose having since become an elementary school, in addition to a nursery school and daycare center.

“[It] now looks at the whole first decade of life,” said Debra Brown, head of the Children’s School.

The Children’s School enrolls children from families within the Mills community, but most families are from cities outside of Oakland: Hercules, Berkeley, San Leandro, Alameda and Castro Valley, according to Brown.

While the School educates children, college students studying to become teachers monitor children’s behavior as they assist in classrooms.

Books can only get students so far. They need hands-on experience. That’s where the children come in.

“The children are the curriculum,” Brown said.

School History

Dr. Lovisa Wagoner reads to students in 1928.

In 1926, then-Mills President Aurelia Henry Reinhardt felt the need for a school designed to study young children. Students would be able to gain insight into child behavior and thinking, the children would be better prepared for entering kindergarten and parents would benefit from talking to the school’s laboratory staff.

“(The) learning is on multiple levels,” Brown said.

The school day would start with a physical examination for the children, followed by various other activities that would encourage group interaction.  Children learned leadership skills, as well as how to get along with others.

“Strong relationships are core,” Brown said.

In 1930, the school established the Child Development Department. Children between the ages of two and 12 were enrolled in the School for six-week summer sessions.

Then, in 1939, due to a generous gift from donors Daniel and Madeleine Sharp Healy, the School was able to eventually remodel what had been the Norman Bridge Health Center and turn it into what is the School’s quarters today. The dedication of the building, however, did not take place until 1968.

A variety of courses have been offered over the years, including special courses during the Depression designed for teachers in Works Progress Administration nursery schools and for those working in migrant camps and housing projects.

Then, during World War II, a grant was received to train directors of wartime child care centers on campus, demonstrating Mills’ commitment to being at the forefront of child care and advocacy.

In 1961, the School moved to a small cottage on campus where teachers were forced to hang equipment on the walls and on rainy days, three students had to stay home, an unusual attendance policy for the time.

Renee Jadushlever, Vice President of Operations and a Children’s School Parent, wrote the above reflection in October 1997 which has been paraphrased for the purposes of this article.

Research and Practice

1930’s Mills College Children’s School staff assist with a mealtime for the children. Children between the ages of two and 12 were enrolled for six-week summer sessions.

At the same time, the College initiated plans to link closed circuit television from the Children’s School to the Psychology building, so that Mills students could observe child behavior first hand.

In previous years, the school “looked at measurement and growth. Now, not just physical growth is taken into account, but cognitive growth as well,” Brown said.

The school provides an “innovative way to teach women how to care for children,” said Mills lecturer Betty Lin, a parent of three school-aged children.

This “innovation” is evident in the way the school’s classroomsare managed.

“What’s unique is that classroom assistants are Mills students,” Schultz said.

Some of these students have children enrolled in the School.

“It makes a difference to be a student at Mills and watch your own child grow and develop,” Brown added. “You experience a shift in how you feel about parenting.”

The school is not all about fun and games, though.

“As students learn, there’s on-going research being done,” Schultz explained. “It’s a lot of back and forth between research and practice.”

The trick is to finding a balance between the two.

“[We] bridge the gap between theory and practice,” Brown said.

The Celebration

Since 1926, the Mills College Children’s School has been serving teachers, parents and children. 85 years have passed, and a big gala event is planned for the evening of Feb. 4 to celebrate this landmark occasion.

“The celebration is a coming together of the school community to acknowledge what a special place this is,” Brown said.

Different activities are planned for the evening, including music, a video capturing the passion of families for the school, and a display of artwork done by the children. In addition, the history of the School will be shared from a political perspective and Jane Bowyer, a Professor of Education, Christine Kaes, the Preschool Head teacher, and two donors who have generously given their time and resources will be acknowledged for their contributions.

Lin, a parent of three Children’s School students, is appreciative of the fact that the school is there, and, as such, is enthusiastic about the upcoming event.

“We’ve really put our heart into the preparations,” Lin said. “Teachers are instrumental, and have unbelievable knowledge. I want to support them any way I can.”

The upcoming celebration has an evening of varied entertainment planned.

“It’s a cocktail event, so there’ll be wine, live music, a series of pictures showing both students and teachers hard at work,” Lin added. “Some of the children’s artwork may even be auctioned off.”

Lin and others are hopeful for the years to come.

“We’re very proud and enthusiastic about the future,” said Lin.