Three decades ago, my older sister, Jean, and I had summer jobs at a day camp in Waltham, Massachusetts, called Green Acres Day Camp. When we started working there, Peter Bloom was one of the campers, and when he was older he became a counselor. Now Peter has assembled a collection of photographs of the day camp, on view in Arlington Center until the middle of next week [link to article about the exhibit].
I just spent an hour talking with Peter Bloom, listening to him tell me about what happened after the camp closed in 1986, and about all the former counselors he had managed to contact. But in the back of my mind I was thinking about how much I had learned from Grace Mitchell’s educational philosophy.
Grace Mitchell was the dynamic educator who founded Green Acres Day Camp. Mitchell believed in child-centered learning, where activities and learning situations emerged from the interests and questions of children. Her educational philosophy continues to influence both my sister Jean and me [link to how that educational philosophy has influenced Jean].
From an obituary I discovered on the Web site of Tufts University:
Grace L. Mitchell, a pioneering day care provider who embarked on her career to remain close to her young son, lawyer F. Lee Bailey, died Jan. 27  in her home in Delray Beach, Fla.
Dr. Mitchell has been recognized as one of the most influential education professionals in the country. She founded Green Acres Day School in her apartment in Waltham in 1933 in order to remain close to her son and continue her career in teaching. “When Lee was only 5 weeks old, I was already missing teaching,” she said in a story published in The Boston Globe on May 17, 1976. “I said OK, that’s it, I’ll start a nursery school….”
…”Children learn more about emotions by experiencing them in a day care setting than they ever could from a textbook,” she said, and described the sound of children running and playing as “good noise” and a positive indication of the health of any day care center.
She owned and operated Green Acres Day School until 1987, when it became the Green Acres Foundation. In 1993, Dr. Mitchell established the Green Acres/Grace Mitchell Endowment at Eliot-Pearson, funding professional development for early childhood educators. Dr. Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree at Tufts when she was in her mid-40s, a master’s degree at Harvard University when she was 55, and a doctorate at Antioch College when she was 70.
She was the author of The Day Care Book, based on visits to centers across the country at a time when there was not much nationally organized information about them. She served on the governing board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children from 1974 to 1978.
Her message to children, and to the adults who care for them, was always, “I am, I can.” She challenged adults to live up to their highest potential and stretch their awareness. She said, “Life is a process of becoming. My greatest satisfaction is the joy of having been a part in helping other people grow.”
Here’s to you, Grace Mitchell — you certainly helped me grow.