July 30, 2018
Children's School Attracts Generations of Families
By Ann Lyon Ritchie
Media Contact: Shilo Rea
Good memories bring parents back to Carnegie Mellon University 's Children's School, a laboratory school for ages 3 to kindergarten.
"When I returned with my son, the colors of the rooms and the smell of the space were the same as when I was a child. Then I saw Jean Bird and knew she had been my teacher, and she remembered me," Ayça Akin said.
A Children's School alumna, Akin had been a designer and creative director living in New York City five years ago. She applied for her son to attend the Children's School soon after deciding to move back Pittsburgh. Her second child will start this fall.
Legacy families—those who have enrolled more than one generation—are common at the Children's School, which turns 50 years old this year.
Paul Fireman, president of Fireman Creative, was a member of the first class when the school was established in 1968. He enrolled his two daughters in 2000 and 2004. They are now attending Brown University and Case Western Reserve University.
"I remember having a very good experience as a child, playing with big toys, riding wooden vehicles we would not have had at home and being artistically engaged." Fireman said.
He added, "My children were very happy. They started on a path that helped them develop a love of school."
Jean Bird initially volunteered at the Children's School while studying child development at the University of Pittsburgh and worked at summer camps. She was hired as an instructor in the 1980s by Ann Baldwin Taylor, the Children's School's founding director, and has remained as a teacher there for more than 30 years.
"The curriculum and teachers are focused on allowing children to be individuals and respecting differences, working with each child’s strengths,” Bird said.
Bird enrolled her two daughters in the 1990s. Her oldest daughter Darrah, a social worker, now sends her son, where "his best interest is at heart."
Features such as small class sizes, individualized student attention, a welcoming environment, and well-prepared instructors attracted Darrah, as well as others.
"What’s unique about laboratory schools is their identity as learning laboratories on college and university campuses. Educators model best practices that promote positive and productive learning for children, families, researchers, undergraduate students and educators at all levels of their careers," Children's School Director Sharon Carver wrote, describing the school in Exchange Magazine.
The school develops its own curriculum, but several activities remain multi-generational favorites, including making music together and kitchen activities that allow the children to share recipes and homemade goodies with their families.
"The school's smell of homemade playdough and books is the same as when I was a child. It's familiar and comforting," said Allison Berger, a real estate professional and also a Children's School alumna.
Berger attended with her brother in the 1980s, when the school set up a room with Macintosh computers, one of the nation's first early education computer labs. Her daughter has been enrolled for two years and knows how to use an iPad and the "Message For Me" app to send her mom a message during the day.
"They are developing and building fundamental skills and gaining an education on different subjects. The children develop independence, self-reliance and important social skills that help them to interact appropriately with others," Berger said.
Allison Drash has been the Children's School's administrative coordinator for ten years and says she loves the school's learning environment. Drash, too, attended for three of her childhood years.
"The community has grown and become more diverse. Dr. Carver arranges professional development not only to support curriculum design but also inclusivity for our children, our instructors, the researchers and Carnegie Mellon students, who are all from different backgrounds, have different abilities and are all a part of the Children's School community," Drash said.
Over the years, the Children's School has remained focused on collaborating with families to nurture and guide their children. Multiple generations of parents agree the school has stayed true to its mission.
With families who return and educators who teach for, 10, 20 and 30 years or more, the best practices in early childhood education established at the Children's School are likely to support the next generation.
In the first picture above, Jean Bird leads a music session while, at left, Children's School alumna Ayça Akin particates with her two children.
The second photo show Paul Fireman and his daughters, all Children’s School alumni.
The third photo is of Allison Drash, who now helps to run the school she attended.