At a time when only a handful of university laboratory schools remain in the United States, UCLA's innovative Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School (UES) is still going strong.
The 2007–08 academic year marks the 125th anniversary of UES, which first opened its doors in 1882 as the children's school of the California State Normal School in downtown Los Angeles, a teacher's college that would later become UCLA.
Today, as an arm of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, UES has earned a reputation as one of the nation's top laboratory schools, providing leading-edge research on education and child development and top-flight training for teachers.
On May 2 and 3, members of the UES community gathered to celebrate the school's rich history and accomplishments. The two-day event brought together teachers, educators, alumni and friends, many of whom worked with or studied under influential educators and former UES leaders Corinne Seeds, John Goodlad and Madeline Hunter.
Premiering at the May 3 dinner ceremony was a video by filmmaker and UES parent Jesse Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, on the legacy of UES and its efforts to shape the future of education. Dylan, whose credits include documentaries, commercials and feature films, recently directed "Yes We Can," a video inspired by presidential candidate Barack Obama's speech following the New Hampshire primary in January.
The event was hosted by Aime Dorr, dean of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and UES principal Jim Kennedy, who this year announced plans to open several new UES campuses in underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Attendees included UES alumni and teachers associated with the school as far back as the 1930s, including retired teachers Janet Harkness '37, and June Fee and Carol Collins '41.
School started in downtown L.A. as part of the Normal School
The Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School traces its origins to the fall of 1882, when the California State Normal School opened its doors on the site of today's Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. The Normal School, devoted to teacher education, included the children's school that eventually became UES.
By 1914, enrollment at the Normal School far exceeded capacity, and the institution, along with the children's school, moved to a Hollywood ranch off a dirt road that later became Vermont Avenue. In 1929, the children's school began leasing property on Warner Avenue owned by Los Angeles City Schools. Children from the local neighborhood attended; the principal was Corinne Seeds.
Promoting progressive education
Seeds, a visionary educator who was influenced by the teachings of John Dewey, became a key figure in developing and promoting progressive education during the 1930s, '40s and '50s. She believed that "to keep education dynamic, children must have experiences that they care about." At a time when children at most other schools were sitting at desks and learning by rote memorization, this was a revolutionary idea.
In the late 1940s, when anti-Communism was rampant in California and the nation, progressive education came under attack. Seeds was called before the California Legislative Committee on un-American Activities and asked to explain her approach to teaching about Russia. As Time magazine reported in 1947: "Miss Seeds said that her pupils studied Russian costumes, homes and farming. 'You mean collective farming?' asked Chairman Tenney. Replied Miss Seeds: 'That's all they have.' She was cleared of being 'un-American.'"
The battle, however, had taken its toll. In 1945, the university lost its lease on the Warner Avenue location and was told to vacate the site by the following year. From September 1946 to June 1947, UES was without a schoolhouse, but some classes continued in private homes.
Relocation to UCLA campus
Supporters of Seeds and progressive education then successfully lobbied the state Legislature to provide funds to relocate the school to the UCLA campus. Wartime restrictions prevented new building, but supporters found unused army barracks and transferred them to the Westwood campus to be used as a temporary school facility.
The first permanent UES buildings were completed in 1950, designed by architect Robert Alexander, a UES parent who worked closely with Seeds and other members of the UES community in creating his vision. Alexander was later joined by eminent architect Richard Neutra, who helped design the school's additional buildings, several of which still stand.
Since those times, UES has remained committed to a dynamic view of school that encompasses new research about education.
In 1960, John Goodlad was appointed UES director and soon after also became dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. A leader in the non-graded school movement, Goodlad encouraged the implementation of team teaching and multi-age grouping. His writings, based on his work and research at UES, stimulated these practices throughout the country.
In 1962, Madeline Hunter became the principal of UES. During her 20-year tenure, she developed a teachers' decision-making approach to instruction that was widely used. She also wrote books for teachers on how to maximize student motivation, retention and transfer of learning. Her work serves as the basis for a clinical supervision model widely used by administrators across the nation.
In the 1980s, UES director Richard C. Williams and principal Hal Hyman worked with faculty to explore aspects of the school-reform movement. They experimented with restructuring the school's organization to strengthen the professional role of teachers and to encourage participatory decision-making, and they formed teacher work groups to coordinate curriculum development in language arts, visual arts, science and mathematics across age levels. In addition, they created an extended-day program for working families, integrating child care with the school program.
In the 1990s, under the leadership of director Deborah Stipek and principal Margaret Heritage, UES developed innovative and effective curricula in the areas of critical thinking and early literacy; a system for establishing and maintaining a safe school environment; and methods, now nationally recognized, for integrating technology into the school curriculum.
Most recently, in winter 2008, UES principal Jim Kennedy and Graduate School of Education & Information Studies Dean Aime Dorr launched an initiative to open several new UES campuses in the urban core of Los Angeles.