Billi Bromer, Class of ’72

When I graduated from college in 1970 with a B.A. in Psychology, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree.  I just knew I was interested in learning more about children.  That fall, I headed to Tufts to begin a graduate program in Child Development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study.  One of the first people I met was Dr. Evelyn Pitcher, who was in charge of the department then.  I was 21, ready to learn, and became immediately in awe of Dr. Pitcher.  In addition to being so knowledgeable about young children, she was such a gracious lady.

I loved being at Tufts and loved studying at Eliot-Pearson even more.  I didn’t realize until a few years later how much Eliot-Pearson and Dr. Pitcher shaped my future and influenced my life.  I discovered all about how children develop from her and learned how to assess young children (via the Arnold Gesell scales) for the first time.  I explored creativity with Sylvia Feinburg and can never again look at a coloring book in the same way.  I was lucky to have many conversations with Eliot-Pearson faculty because I received financial aid from Tufts that required some work hours in the department.  I was immersed in Eliot-Pearson and I loved every minute of it.  My general interest in children became a true love for early childhood education and an endless fascination with how children develop.

Although I had majored in Psychology and some of my Tufts colleagues were completing a thesis to earn an M.A., some were planning to student teach and graduate with an M. Ed.  Writing a thesis didn’t sound like as much fun as teaching, so I pursued an M.Ed.  I student taught at the Children’s School and remember that it wasn’t my best performance, but the guided experience told me that I wanted to teach.  I made it through student teaching and I made it through the final comprehensive exam.

I graduated a year and a half after I began, ready to start my career in teaching.  It was January; I had a graduate degree and Massachusetts teacher certification, but no job.  After several weeks, I was running out of money and when I was just about to give up and take any job that would pay the rent, I got a call from Dr. Pitcher.  She knew of a job that she thought I would like.  The job was teaching young children from low-income families in a federally funded program called Home Start.  It was in Haverhill, a long ride from where I lived in Cambridge, but it was a teaching job.  She was right.  I liked the job and they hired me.   I taught in Home Start until I married my husband, Rich, and left Massachusetts a few years later so he could begin his medical career (he is a Tufts Medical School graduate).

It’s been almost 40 years since I earned my degree at Eliot-Pearson, but Eliot-Pearson stays with me and always will.  The fascination with how young children learn that the faculty sparked in me has grown.  I went on to teach general and then special early childhood education in both private and public schools for many, many years.  An appreciation for the uniqueness of each child began in 1970 at Eliot-Pearson and remains deeply embedded within me.

I have also proudly and joyously parented three children. My son, Zach, is a graduate of Tufts as well.  I appreciated each of my children as distinctly different while they were growing up and still appreciate their uniqueness as adults.   I can’t help but credit Eliot-Pearson with an abiding appreciation for the wonders of childhood.  My children used to tease me as they were approaching adulthood that I would become the grandma who bought educational toys, just as I had done with each of them.   It was a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I completed an Ed.D. a decade ago but gave up teaching little ones only five years ago.  My knees got a little too creaky to keep getting eye-to-eye with four-year-olds.  Now I teach future teachers at Brenau University in Georgia, where I have lived for almost thirty years.  Eliot-Pearson shaped both my professional and personal life and I will always cherish my days at Tufts.  I will never forget Dr. Pitcher and how much she taught me about the wonders of children and how they grow.

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Beryl Soparkar — Class of 1967

I had always loved babies and little children, even when I was one, myself. In college, I started out specializing in English Literature and Physics, which I loved, but then I found myself excelling at and majoring in Philosophy. After college graduation, I actually landed a fellowship in Philosophy at Cornell University, and I spent a year there on that subject, intending to get a Philosophy Ph.D. in Logic and Epistemology (the study of knowledge). Marriage and the arrival of our first child intervened in that goal, and I found my interest shifting to wonder in how a newborn infant mind develops. Again, little children fascinated me, and more as an amusement for myself than with any serious intent, I decided to take a course in Art for Early Childhood the summer before my firstborn turned one year old. That was how I found Eliot Pearson at Tufts in Medford. Needless to say, one summer course led to another in the autumn. . . . .

What I learned at Eliot-Pearson in earning my Master’s degree there became extremely vital to me. It taught me to think of children flexibly, in many different dimensions, and to recognize and respect that from birth onwards, children are very individual in their responses, capabilities, and cognition.

In my courses at Eliot Pearson, I think what impressed me the most were Evelyn Pitcher’s Gesell testing and a student teaching period with emotionally disturbed children, at Putnam in Boston. I think that both of those helped broaden my observational skills of children’s responses.

I did do student teaching, as was required at the time for the degree, and I also did a research project on creativity, using Theresa Dowd’s kindergarten classroom in Wellesley. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Creativity in the preschool child.

After getting that degree, I served as Director of a versatile Sunday School for a few years in the Boston Ethical Society, but I never again actually taught in a nursery school or even in an elementary school. Instead, I raised our children with care as to their education in the arts (music, crafts, art, drama,) and nature and science explorations, as such opportunities were available locally in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I tried to encourage our children to think through effects of their alternative choices, and I suspect now that that helped them to build such diverse lifestyles for themselves in adulthood. We enjoyed camping trips in the USA and Europe – all of this while as parents we tried to consider the impact on our growing children.

Through this time, after four were born to us, we began to fulfill a dream of my husband’s and mine, to adopt children who otherwise had no family or home. In the end, we adopted a total of ten children from five different countries. That meant two sets of twins and two sets of nearly same-age children who were not biologically related. This immersion in adoption involved becoming active in various adoption groups and learning how the background experience of adoption affects not only a child in his or her earliest years, but the entire immediate and extended family, and that subsequent (“adopted”) adult as well. It also brought us into personal relationship with different cultural presuppositions and how those manifest in life choices and personal needs.

Before the adoptions, we thus had some background with our biological children. Even before our first child was born, we had taken in, briefly, a few foster children for brief periods. Then all this experience, combined with the educational background from Eliot-Pearson, gave us the courage and confidence to adopt children. We felt secure that we could love and effectively raise adopted children with entirely different genetic makeup from ourselves.

We adopted children at different ages, from newborn through twelve years of age. We certainly did not vary the ages purposely or as any kind of experiment, but it happened because those were the ages of the children that we came across needing a home. Those were independent adoptions in those years. Despite our home study, adoption agencies were not accustomed to mixing families with both biological and adopted children. So we did it on our own.

It turned out that almost all of the adopted children had learning disabilities in school. This brought my husband and me into the entire area of special needs and special education. Home relationships were very complex, and all the children grew up with unusual awareness and acceptance of their siblings’ feelings and abilities.

However it came about, we don’t really know, because we never consciously set about trying to teach values or beliefs, but as adults, our fourteen children, all very individual in life interests, but all unusually caring and responsible persons, are fond of little children. Most of them now have children of their own, and all are very fond of each others’ children, as well as of all small children in general.

As adults:  One of our children is a medical specialist, another a corporate lawyer, a third a Ph.D. psychologist, a fourth a performing classical musician, and a fifth a teacher of English to adults in business in China. Four are assistants in medical, emotional, and dental health care, two are in food industry management, and two are in retail management. One is mildly retarded and has mild psychiatric difficulties, which prevent him from working outside the home. At present we have 24 grandchildren, the three oldest in colleges, four more entering colleges this fall, and the rest are younger and still in school or as yet too little to be even in nursery school.

After my M.A. from Eliot Pearson, I decided to go further in my own education and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut Department of Human Development and Family Relations. For my dissertation, I interviewed 83 grandmothers whose biological adult children had adopted children. I was interested in how those grandparents felt about their adopted grandchildren, especially when some of those adoptions came from foreign countries, some with physical deformities, different racial appearances, or special educational needs.

Right now, as I watch my youngest grandchildren develop, I am fascinated by how their minds develop, what attitudes they absorb, how easily and rapidly they learn language and its use, and how incredibly quickly they develop social skills – even, for example, in neonatal infancy before they discover their own hands. I have one grandchild who, well before the age of three, speaks fluently in both Hungarian and English and understands which persons in his environment understand which language. “I speak two different languages,” he told me, and it felt to me as if he was commenting on the color of his hair or some other simple, taken-for-granted, observation about himself, maybe as if he had just been born that way – speaking two different languages.

I would say that right now my principal interest concerning children is in their attitude, identity, and cognitive developments and how those impact on their fitting successfully into their environment.

Well, – hmmm. Isn’t that really what we studied about at Eliot-Pearson so many years ago?

Beryl Soparkar

B.A., Mount Holyoke College 1952

M.A., Eliot Pearson at Tufts 1967

Ph.D., University of Connecticut 1998

Here’s a P.S.

Most, if not all, of our preschool age kids went to Eliot Pearson Nursery School, and that lasted for many years, through all the 1960’s and 1970’s. In fact, one of our granddaughters went there, also. Our first adoptee was a little girl who was used by EP in an in-house video to show EP students how a child responds to nursery school. In one of Evelyn Pitcher’s books, there is a photo of our oldest son, at about three years of age, beating with joyful abandon on an EP classroom drum. Our older set of twins, newly adopted from Mexico, and maybe barely yet speaking English, were part of the Children’s School class the fall the school burned down, I believe on Thanksgiving Day, 1974 or 5. Luckily, the boys never saw the fire itself, but they remember finding their school burned to the ground and then going to a new building for the rest of the year.

I think that it was not only the testing course and the experience of student teaching at Putnam that impressed on me the subtleties and value of careful observation of young children, but it was also the screened observation booths in each classroom (before the fire) where I could sit and watch whenever I wanted and practice applying those new skills. I believe that doing that helped me in my sensitivity to young children.

I assisted Evelyn Pitcher at times, correcting papers for her, and she and I talked about doing a research project on gender differences in preschool children. That project never materialized, a least not with me, because I was too busy with our increasing number of children at home. I often wish I had been able to do it. She usually, then, asked me to come in, once a semester, to one of her Gesell test classes, to talk about my large family, which she found interesting.

Also at Eliot Pearson, I was in touch with Abbie Dreyer and took either a course or individual study with him. I think he was my chairperson for my master’s degree research. I also corrected student papers for him. Later, in the 1980’s, when I arrived at the University of Connecticut for my doctoral degree in HDFR, he was already on the staff there, and he became my head chairman again.

Eliot-Pearson has been a major part of my life, and I look back on it with love and pride and a bit of nostalgia

Posted in 1960s | 2 Comments

Dorene Lees Lengyel – Class of 57

I enthusiastically entered as a freshman in the fall of 1954. I believe my tuition was $350 per semester. It increased some over the next years, but I was able to pay for my entire 4 years by waitressing in the summers. I took liberal arts classes at Tufts and took the T into Boston to The Nursery Training School  on Marlborough Street for education classes in a lovely old brownstone with at least three floors. This is where girls attended for years but was the last year in Boston. They moved to the Tufts campus in 1954 having become affiliated with them in 1951.

The NTS had purchased a house on the Tufts campus where the first few (maybe 10) four year students could live if needed. Being a Medford girl, I commuted for three years until my senior year. We went to orientation meetings at this house. Women began entering after junior college which helped fill the ranks.

The school bought an old WW11 Quonset hut next to Cousin’s Gym for on campus classes. We had our music classes there with white haired Miss Beatrice Spaulding who had us dancing with scarves and tambourines, making up songs and learning the core of her collected nursery school songs.  I sang them for years in school and to my own children and still remember many. The boys on their way to the gym would peek in the windows and get a laugh out of our performances. One spring day Miss Spaulding thought it a good idea to take us all to the Stoneham Zoo with another music teacher, Tony Salatan, who was a co-host on WGBH Channel 2  with Mary Lou Adams (EPS) on the 1955 children’s program “Come and See”. The idea was to play instruments and sing to the animals and see what their reaction might be. I have some movies of that day and remember only a lot of silliness on our parts! One year at the end of classes the whole school had a picnic at Wingersheek Beach. I remember elderly Miss Chandler, our curriculum teacher, daring to roll down her stockings to get a tan while sitting in the sand.

I made friends in both schools but was not “allowed” to rush a sorority. Everything else was open for us as far as I know and I became a cheerleader for four years.

Because the Korean War was just ending, the school brought a Korean girl (Sook Kim) who spoke no English, to study with our small class. The poor girl was so homesick and timid. She would anxiously hold onto whoever was walking with her to class and we all helped her with English. She did not graduate with us and I think she must have dropped out her sophomore year, but I don’t remember. I wonder what happened to her.

In my freshman and sophomore years, we observed in many nursery and kindergarten classrooms, both private and public, to get a feel for the many differences in teaching styles and curricula. Fortunately I had a car so could drive myself and others to various schools. In our junior and senior years we had a different student teacher assignment for each semester, five days a week. This was absolutely invaluable!

In 1954 Tufts became a university. There was a movie made called ‘How One College Educates” for prospective students. I had a small cameo in it! Dr. Cockerell became our director and the name was changed to Eliot-Pearson in 1955. In my senior year I lived on campus at Wyeth House. We had a dear housemother Mrs. Ester Karlson who made sure we kept our curfews and had no boys beyond our front room. I remember having to get special permission to meet my boyfriend after the curfew one night as he was coming home from a navy assignment for our senior prom. We had one telephone in a booth on the first floor for all the girls. We’d take turns answering it and yelling up the stairs for whomever it was for. We had a kitchen in our dorm and sometimes got communal meals there but most often we’d drive to Cambridge to a buffet restaurant right off Massachusetts Ave. where we would get a 3 course meal for 99 cents.

In my Eliot-Pearson Handbook from 1956 I note we had a strict dress code. “Bermuda shorts or slacks and jeans may be worn in the dorms but not on Tufts Campus and not in Boston Proper” reads one admonition. There were many rules for “overnight absences”, “signing out” calling hours for men callers, times for being out evenings and quiet time for study hours.

After graduation, my first job was in Syosset, Long Island, NY teaching public kindergarten for $4200. I had 36 children in the morning and 36 in the afternoon with no aide. After that, I started a private pre-school, St. Paul’s Church Day School, in Peabody, Ma. I was director and kindergarten teacher there, was director for 10 years of a large pre school in Lynnfield, Ma, earned my Master’s at Lesley College over 7 years in Special Ed. and became a Lynnfield public school kindergarten teacher for 10 years. I did a great deal of private tutoring, was one of the early members of the Whole Language Association, taught English as a Second Language and taught in the Resource Room in Lynnfield Public Schools.

My years at Tufts and Eliot-Pearson were some of my happiest. I had wonderful hands-on, creative training and used what I learned for years. I continue many friendships made then.

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Miriam Lasher Class of 1956

Miriam Lasher: Notes from a Talk at the E-P Alumni Dinner:

In the early 1950’s I was an undergraduate Pomona College in southern California. I was a psychology major interested in children and had completed the only course then offered about children.  I looked all over the country for a way to specialize with young children as an undergraduate – Eliot-Pearson and the Merrill-Palmer Institute in Detroit were the most prominent. I applied to E-P and was sent to meet and be interviewed by Abigail Eliot who was at that time at Pacific Oaks Children’s School in Pasadena. Abby had gone to Pacific Oaks after retiring from E-P at age 60, to help establish a training program for nursery school teachers. The interview led to my being accepted to Tufts.

I arrived on the Medford campus along with Hurricane Edna – trees down, no power – no reception committee. E-P was part of the College of Special Studies, not yet a fully-fledged member of the college.  To Sawyer House – E-P students were then in three small houses on the edge of campus. 7 or 8 girls, one bathroom, one bathtub – no shower. Our meals were provided in Carmichael Hall – a brand new dorm for freshman men all alone on the western side at the top of the hill, a wasteland. I remember trudging up there in the dark and windy cold to be first in line for 7 a.m. breakfast before long commutes to student teaching. It was a hard life.

Another little vignette of those times: During those two years – I graduated in 1956 – the college ruled that women could wear slacks to Sunday breakfast in the dormitory. It seemed like a really big deal at the time.

I chose E-P because of the heavy dose of practical work with experienced mentors; and the opportunity for specialized coursework. For example, a Tufts course in speech and hearing disorders which for me included a mini-internship in the audiology department at Children’s Hospital;

and an E-P course on the hospitalized child which included intensive visiting in playrooms of Boston Floating Hospital – in the midst of the polio epidemic – with children in wheelchairs lining the walls just to be near something related to play.

The themes for the rest of my career were there – immersion in clinical experiences,  learning from very experienced clinicians in specialized settings; blending theory and science with practice.

Lots of student teaching – three full semesters – Harvard Preschool, Theresa Dowd’s kindergarten in Wellesley Hills, and a clinical placement at the Putnam Children’s Center in Roxbury – a unique clinic working with kids with emotional and behavioral problems, and autistic children – that’s a continuing interest of mine.

My student teaching at the Putnam Children’s Center folded into being employed there for six years as a teacher with a caseload of largely autistic children. Child Psychiatry fellows came through and we teachers showed them how to be with children.

In 1961, I went to an NANE/NAEYC conference somewhere in the Midwest and had dinner with Evelyn Pitcher. At the dinner table, she recruited me to come to E-P to teach three-year-olds in the brand new laboratory preschool – the Children’s School – that was then under construction.

By the time I came to work in July, 1962, I had somehow been promoted to Director. When I came to work I was handed the keys to the brand new building – the shell with no furnishings. We ordered everything for rush delivery from a catalog. I think of that austere setting – everything new and traditional and almost identical in three classrooms – and compare it with what I see in the Children’s school now: almost everything custom created to make unique individual environments.

I was director for four years – Rosemary Hutchinson followed me; later Nicki Leodas and then Sam Meisels.

Remember 1965? Legislation in January created summer Head Start programs. The department was funded for a children’s program – we had 10 so-called “welfare children” from the City of Medford. The department also was funded for a Head Start teacher training program. A contingent of faculty flew to La Guardia airport in New York the first week in June, spent five hours in a hotel at the airport; we came back trained to run summer Head Start programs.

At Tufts we were not satisfied with any teacher training materials then available. We flew back to Boston and in two weeks we wrote from scratch a training manual that we could live with. That became Helping Young Children Learn. It went through five editions – I was part of the first three. Sylvia Feinburg was part of all of them.

Early in my fourth year as Director of the Children’s School, Dr. Sam Braun contacted me – he was one of the young child psychiatry fellows who came through in my final year at the Putnam. He was in Washington, D.C. fulfilling his armed services commitment, working at NIMH where he took on the challenge of creating training programs for teachers to work with preschoolers who had emotional and behavioral problems. NIMH had a wad of money – it chose and gave generous three-year grants to four institutions to establish graduate training programs for teachers – it was pioneering stuff.

In 1966, I transitioned into directing that program. The grant included full tuition and generous training stipends for a hand-picked group of graduate students; and all the necessary expenses for the department. I remember then-Provost Leonard Mead advising me to find a couple of international conferences we’d like to go to and build them into the budget. The first thing I did was to hire Sam Braun to teach and advise in the training program.

In the first year we struggled to find appropriate internship placements for our students, and ended up creating our own, using local child guidance clinics in Somerville and Cambridge to provide clients and space. Those students provided consultation to Head Start classrooms as the core of their final summer practicum.

We published a project report, and later, Charles Merrill Publishers – which was already publishing Helping Young Children Learn – took it on.

When the third year ended in 1969, Sam Braun and I moved over to the community. There was a huge infusion of new federal money coming into communities to establish community mental health centers. In Cambridge and Somerville we gave it our early childhood twist. The work we had done at E-P really put us on the map – we were miles ahead of just about anyone in the country in what we provided for kids and parents, and the quality of the training experiences we could create for future professionals.

We continued working with Head Start under the auspices of the Cambridge Guidance Center. At some point George Scarlett joined us as consultant in Cambridge Head Start – when was that?

I continued teaching one course a semester for another ten-plus years in the department – then called “The Exceptional Child,” which gave me an opportunity to pull together my accumulated experience with young children with special needs and attempt to teach the skills adults needed to work with them and their families, and create community settings that made sense.

Through the years a couple of other themes emerged – creating community-based clinical settings where children, families and adults – teachers and clinicians – learn together and document what they’re doing. Thinking about and writing about what we do have always been important to me. It’s a quasi-academic approach with a strong behavioral science twist – serious scientific underpinnings to everything we do; but highly custom fitted to enhance what the individual – child or adult – brings to the situation.

Other benchmarks:

public kindergarten became almost universal in MA in the 1970s

the state established special education programs for children three and up under Chapter 766 in 1976 (?)

the Dept. of Public Health took on responsibility for children under three with special needs and established Early Intervention

In many ways I feel I never left Tufts. In the community clinical programs in Cambridge-Somerville, I hired Tufts grads and we always had graduate students as interns. The person who succeeded me as Director – Frances Rowley – had received her masters in the department.

Through the years I continued to “chair” the Scholarship Committee for the Children’s School – I still do. It’s a nominal role because Debbie LeeKeenan and the school administrator do all the preparation. Coming back annually to the scholarship committee meeting has enabled me to stay connected to the department and the changes taking place.

I continue to be deeply involved in EI in Massachusetts – as a member of the statewide fiscal subcommittee of the DPH EI Interagency Coordinating Council; and as Secretary to the Council. I read the E-P News with great interest – the multifaceted interests of faculty and the broad range of what graduate students do…….I doubt there’s anything like it…..

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Liz Hawthorne – Class of 1965

Liz Hawthorne (class of 1965)

In 1963 I was president of my class (class of 1965) and lived in Tilton Hall (it was really new then, but I stray).  I don’t recall if it had been customary, but I believe we decided that the class had to leave a gift when we graduated and our task at that point was to figure out how to raise money.  At that time the food in the dining hall, was, well, questionable–we called it ‘wonder’ food as in “I wonder what it is tonight.”  Heavens, those brown pieces of whatever covered with brown glop and the lady in the hairnet saying, “P’dadas* Miss?”.  I think we all learned to love salads and greens for the lack of them.  For context, a piece of pizza (large) from Leaning Tower of Pizza was $1 and we ordered that weekly.  So, food was really critical.  Walking up that hill every day required our strength!

Donuts…we said “Donuts.”  Sunday morning donuts delivered to the dorms—the old houses.  And so every Sunday one of us got a couple of dozen donuts to girls in Eliot-Pearson housing and we sold them on the honor system.  That, it turned out, was not the best approach, although we made a fair amount of money in the beginning.  Well, after we started losing money, we stopped the donuts and got more sleep on Sunday mornings!  Eliot-Pearson girls probably lost a collective fifty pounds after that!

Well, we had to come up with another scheme and Eliot-Pearson girls if nothing else are resourceful.  Turtlenecks.  Honestly, they were a new fashion statement in those days.  I remember taking the MTA into town and going to a store near the Park and picking up a dozen or more turtlenecks in assorted sizes for $3.00 each—retail– and schlepping them back to the dorms and selling them for $5 each.  I made the ‘runs’ weekly and we made a lot of money for the times.  We donated the money as a class gift to the nearly established Martha Chandler Scholarship Fund.  I have always felt proud that we were able to help someone who needed it to get a little bit of help from us.

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