History of Baker

Learning By Doing

The roots of Baker Demonstration School reach back to the establishment of National College in 1886. Founder Elizabeth Harrison was deeply interested in the individual child and in understanding children’s behaviors. Her enthusiasm and commitment to early childhood education sparked a fire of equal dedication in one of her students, Edna Dean Baker. Edna Dean’s sister, Clara Belle Baker, founded the Children’s School and became its first director.

The school first opened at 2944 Michigan Avenue, on what was then the “Gold Coast,” in 1918 and moved to the North Shore on the Evanston campus of National College in 1926. By 1929, the Children’s School was a complete elementary school with classrooms of nursery through eighth grade. The school took on the challenge of “charting new ways for better educating the individual as a member of a changing and developing society, and to prepare children for living together in a democracy.”

Clara Belle Baker’s vision carefully linked the study of children with the preparation of teachers. A pioneer in Progressive education, she believed that children enjoyed being challenged by unanswered questions and problems. The school soon came to be highly regarded for its style of “learning by doing.”

When Clara Belle Baker retired in 1952, the school was renamed Baker Demonstration School for its demonstration of best practices in classroom methods. Baker continues to pioneer the practice and the demonstration of innovative teaching techniques, materials, and technology, while still adhering to the values set forth by Clara Belle Baker and Elizabeth Harrison.

Among the factors enabling the school to meet these challenges now, as then, is a strong teaching faculty who engage our young learners through application and analysis. Our classes are small to allow teachers to understand each child and to encourage students to work purposefully in social groups. Our best practices methodology allows our faculty to teach to the whole child and permits our students to be fully engaged in their learning experience.

In the new millennium, special attention to individual needs continues in the spirit of our original goals, but with objectives and course of study adapted to meet the ever-changing life challenges of today. We are committed to honoring the lives of children who teach us, motivate our actions, test our theories, challenge our methods, and provide us with inspiration each day.

In 2005, Baker Demonstration School became an independent school, while retaining an academic relationship with the National College of Education, now known as National-Louis University. The summer of 2006 heralded the purchase of the National-Louis Evanston campus from the University; this acquisition allowed Baker to remain in the location it has called home for the better part of a century, while simultaneously allowing it to upgrade its facilities to better serve the students of Chicago and the North Shore. It is this revitalized Baker Demonstration School that carries the values of Clara Belle Baker and Elizabeth Harrison into the 21st century.

Interested in seeing our campus? Please arrange a tour of Baker. We would love to show you around.

There you will find bright, creative students engaged in challenging, hands-on learning experiences.
After your visit, you will more clearly understand why Baker is nationally recognized for excellence in progressive education.

Baker Demonstration School Tour

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Baker is a Progressive school.

“Progressive” refers to a philosophy of education that originated in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the work of pioneering educators such as John Dewey, Francis Parker, and Clara Belle Baker—the founder of Baker Demonstration School.

A Progressive school is one that does not stop at academics but attends to the whole child: the physical, social, emotional, and cultural development that will give them the stamina, skills and ethical framework for success in life. A true Progressive education is one in which students learn by doing, rather than by being “talked at,” where they are challenged to think deeply, ask questions, and support their ideas rather than simply reciting “correct answers,” and where they don’t simply learn from a teacher—they learn with and from one another in a nurturing community.

Over the years, some of the language of Progressive education such as “educating the whole child” or “community of learners” has been more broadly adopted by educators. But a true Progressive education remains fundamentally different than that of most schools.

At Baker, our approach is guided by the following principles:

  • We educate the whole child
  • We see, understand, and respond to each child as an individual
  • We cultivate each child’s inherent love of learning
  • We create engaging, hands-on learning experiences
  • We build higher-order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation
  • We provide academically rigorous and thematically integrated curricula
  • We support creative thinking and academic progress through integration of the arts
  • We create an environment in which students are comfortable taking risks
  • We actively teach community-building skills and concepts that foster collaboration, inclusion, and service to others