The Mills College Children’s School recently celebrated its 90th anniversary as a progressive laboratory school in the East Bay, focusing on social justice theories and pedagogies that have a widespread influence locally, nationally and globally.
Debra Brown, the current head of the school, is passionate about the impact that the school has had. Before becoming head of the Children’s School, Brown formally taught at local schools with other Mills graduates.
“There’s this ripple effect of people implementing change with a social justice mindset and that people look to Mills students for that,” Brown said. “We may be different people, but people know that’s the work that matters to us.”
People’s mindset about education was different when the children’s school was created in 1926. At the time, a student’s education was focused on being physically healthy. The Mills Children’s School wanted to be different, though, and was intended to be a laboratory school to prepare nursery school teachers.
“What we think about in terms of growth and measurement has changed,” Brown said. “Now we’re thinking about all of the domains of cognitive and language, gross motor and fine motor skills, social and emotional skills.”
As far back as the 1970s, the labratory school was not only a school for Mills students and children but also a co-op for students and faculty to work there and receive child care in return.
“Folks could drop off their children and work there. Children were here in the mornings and parents would come have lunch with them at noon and take them away,” Brown said.
As for the future of the school, Brown sees the same pillars of theory and practice remaining, but increasing diversity of the school to reflect the community.
“Children change and families change and the context in which graduates go in and out of school styles change,” Brown said. “When I think of moving forward, I think of the complexities of the communities we serve and how to balance the various demands, and understanding and learning to model for folks so they can learn from us and with us to take their learning forward.”