1) When I began my career in the public schools, as a Special Education teacher, my room had a sign on the door that announced “Emotionally Disturbed”. (Cringe!) The next year it was changed to “Socially and Emotionally Maladjusted”. (Not much better!) Special Education classes were never mainstreamed; my eight students and I were kept hidden from the rest of the school population by remaining in our classroom for the day. Outdoor time was assigned when the playground was emptied of all other students; the children arrived earlier by special bus, and left earlier, so they were out of sight for the majority of the day. By the time the Right to Education laws and mainstreaming were finally implemented, I had already founded South Hills and committed to accepting all students who fit the age guidelines, regardless of what intervention might be required. It made sense to me that good modeling was required for the children who desperately needed it; and good modeling was provided for children to easily learned tolerance and compassion.
This model is the norm now, in all schools, and I am so grateful to witness this change! Early Intervention services are so easily available now, and children who receive these services benefit enormously—most need minimal, if any, support once they enter elementary school!
2) When I graduated from college in 1972 and signed my first teaching contract, I was not able to purchase a car without my father’s signature. No woman could make these types of purchases or obtain loans by themselves in those days. Women could not even apply for their own credit cards! The women’s movement of the time finally changed all of that, and as women moved into the work force in droves, I sensed the need for a safe haven for the children whose mothers were employed. And that was the initial vision behind South Hills…
I rarely met fathers of my young students during those early years. Although women were moving into the work force and children were enrolling for full day education while their mothers worked, it remained the mother’s responsibility to get the children to school and pick them up after work.
Oh how times have changed, however! Now, I know BOTH mothers and fathers of South Hills’ students equally well, and am so happy that both parents share an equal role in caring for their children. I enjoy observing the warm relationships that children have with both parents, knowing how much children benefit from equal relationships from both mother and father, and what that bonding can offer the child in terms of future success.
3) When I started the school, lunches were basically lunch meat or peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, potato chips, and cookies. There weren’t a lot of options. These days, children are more likely to bring yogurt, organic vegetables and fruit, hummus, organic milk, etc. Parents pay a LOT more attention to nutrition than we did in the seventies, although the movement was beginning in those days with Adele Davis and others who advocated organic foods and minimizing processed foods. The children definitely benefit from parents’ heightened awareness and knowledge regarding the foods they offer their children! I am always impressed by the beautiful, healthy lunches parents provide for their children.
4) Children always spent lots of time outside in the fresh air, exploring open spaces independently four decades ago. However, a strange phenomena of missing children in our country placed fear in everyone, and suddenly as a nation, we started keeping our children occupied indoors more, or scheduling supervised activities for their outdoor time to reassure our worried, frantic psyches. Independent outdoor time diminished, and may never again be the same as it was during what I call ‘our time of innocence’.
However, over the past decade, the environmental movement in making all of us aware of the importance of independent outdoor play (Last Child in the Woods made a HUGE impact on so many of us!) and it is evident to me by the enormous support that South Hills’ parents have offered regarding our nature based play area. Here, the children have the opportunity to explore, create, observe, question, hypothesize, and deeply reflect on their experiences regarding gardens, plants, insects, birds, trees, flowers, worms, seeds, and much much more. The children have a safe and carefully supervised area for outdoor play and learning, and parents who are wonderfully enthusiastic regarding their experiences. The return to green space and nature opportunities has been a gratifying highlight of my career.
5) What has NOT changed is the commitment of parents to provide the best possible start for their children’s education. It is so inspiring to observe parents going to work every day, balancing their demanding careers with their family life, and arriving in the late afternoon with a smile, hugs and kisses for their child as they anticipate the evening together. Parents still find the time to share their gifts and talents with us here at South Hills, and I know that their personal involvement in their child’s education enormously increases their chances for educational achievement and success.
Spending my days with families who are so committed and devoted to their children is a most rewarding part of my work here. And, after forty years (over 3000 children!) and a whole new generation of students (Many current students are the children of my former students!), I still love my work so much, and am so proud of the children and young families with whom I share my days!