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Centennial History

A Century of Educational Excellence: Protecting the Wonder of Childhood

“As we reflect back on our centennial, it is important to remember that from its inception, Baker has protected the wonder of childhood,” said Head of School, Carly Andrews, “The women who founded our School worked tirelessly to enact legislative reform to extend childhood—and free children from harmful work environments during an era of child labor. We are proud of our history and continue to carry on that work by striving to protect the freedom of childhood, the wonder of childhood, and the exploration of childhood.”

In 1866, the roots of Baker Demonstration School began with the establishment of National College (now National Louis University) founded by Elizabeth Harrison who was deeply interested in understanding children’s behaviors. Inspired by the teachings of John Dewey and by the progressive movement, to teach students in a new way, she set out to create school cultures that inspired a lifelong love of learning, treated students as individuals who shape their own learning, focused on hands-on, experiential learning, and fostered empathy and caring connections throughout the fabric of the schools. Read More.

Baker’s first kindergarten class

Ms. Harrison’s enthusiasm and commitment to early childhood education sparked a fire of equal dedication in one of her students, Edna Dean Baker, who became the second president of National after Ms. Harrison. This enthusiasm for progressive education was also felt by Edna Dean’s sister, Clara Belle Baker, who became its first director of what we now call Baker Demonstration School. Thus began a tradition that Baker has carried on for 100 years.

“It is the greatest pleasure of my professional life to be back at Baker. I have the honor of coming full circle to be where I began in the 1960’s doing my undergraduate work at the then National College of Education,” said Early  Childhood and Primary Division Head, Merle Scharmann.

“Whether it was Student Teaching with Betty Weeks (renowned Kindergarten teacher and storytelling icon)  or experiencing the original Froebel Gifts of Learning (building blocks), the lessons of my foundation here as a progressive educator have followed me throughout my career,” continued Ms. Scharmann. “Each day, as I walk the halls of Baker I still hear echoes of the important  challenge of my mentors: keep children at the center, protect childhood, stay open to learning and change and…’tell a story every day!’”

Following Dewey’s belief that “school is life, not preparation for life,” our faculty teach to the whole child and facilitate deep engagement in their learning experience.

In 2005, Baker Demonstration School became an independent school, still retaining an academic relationship with the National College of Education, now part of 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 upgrading its facilities to better serve the students of Chicago and the North Shore. It is this revitalized Baker that carries the values of Clara Belle Baker and Elizabeth Harrison into the 21st century.

Baker students continue to be caring community members who advocate for themselves, for others, and for what is right; they are intrepid and engaged learners. Baker faculty and staff members inspire intellectual discovery and guide our students to think critically and act compassionately. To this day, Baker maintains our commitment to progressive education and inclusive values from our founding—values that have made the School an incredibly special and unique place throughout the decades.

“There are many reasons why hands-on, engaging learning experiences still matter,” added Ms. Andrews. “We want for students who graduate from Baker to have the two most vital qualities for their future success intact: their love of learning and their self-confidence in being able to think in creative and critical ways.

Baker students learning by doing circa 1920s