Monday, October 1, 2012

Edith Bowen's birthday

A lot of schools are named after somebody--and often the children who go there don't have a clue who their school honored when it took its name.

Not so at Edith Bowen.

children gather around Edith Bowen's headstone

Last week, classes from Edith Bowen Laboratory School visited the grave of the woman their school was named after. She is buried a five-minute walk from the school that bears her name, in the Logan City Cemetery.

She was born on September 29, 1880 in a tiny Idaho town. Her grave is marked by a modest, school-teacher-salary-sized headstone.

We don't know a lot about her. We just know that she started a revolutionary idea in Logan: Kindergarten. The first class began at the Whittier school in 1926. Its first teacher was another recognizable name on campus: Emma Eccles Jones. Emma was persuaded by her former geography teacher, Miss Edith Bowen, to put her new degree from Teachers College at Columbia University to use.

In 1927, Utah State University started a school of education. In 1928 it established a teacher training school, absorbing Whittier into its program. It became a place where student teachers could experience hands-on learning. In 1932 Edith Bowen became its elementary supervisor.

"I always remember her as a dedicated teacher, a loyal friend and a supervisor of great inspiration to those whose lives she touched," Emma wrote later. "I seriously doubt that without her inspiration and assistance, I would have been instrumental in organizing and teaching a Kindergarten in the Whittier School."

Emma’s dedication would later result in enormous support for the College of Education and Human Services, which now bears her name.

The teacher training program moved on campus in 1957, when the Edith Bowen Laboratory School was built.

Kaye Rhees was a teacher through the 1980s and a principal from the 90s through 2007. The school's relationship to the university had benefits for both, she said. "We had access to all the museums, the swimming pool, the tennis courts." 

What's more, the influx of talent enlivened the school.  "It just kept you fresh all the time. It allowed you to work groups of kids into smaller groups… it really blessed the lives of the students, I think."

Educators learned from the children, too. "We did some collaboration with the elementary education professors on the research that they were working on," Rhees said. "Having the lab school on campus added a facet or a component of research."

The Reading for All Learners curriculum is currently used all over the United States. Its early testing happened at Edith Bowen.

The laboratory school’s original one-story building was demolished in the 2000s, with the new Edith Bowen Laboratory School taking shape on the same site. By then Emma Eccles Jones had passed away, but her foundation helped fund the new building at a time when many other laboratory schools were closing due to budget issues. It remains a reason that the EEJ College of Education is the region's leader. 

The school’s supporters agreed Emma would have wanted the new lab school building to keep her former teacher's name.

Thanks to the efforts of Vaughan Larson, a media specialist at Edith Bowen, its students know who their school is named after. They learned about her at the gravesite and sang the school song.

Then they went back to class in her monument.

photo of Edith Bowen Laboratory School

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