Thoughts About a Mentor: Gail Perry of NAEYC
If we're lucky, we all have a few people in our lives who help us go further than we could on our own.
A long time ago, I started to get the feeling that it was important for teacher-researchers to get our work out there in some way. It was a combination of reading about the wonderful work that teachers in Reggio Emilia were doing, while at the same time, finding most of the rest of the literature about young children was kind of clinical. Beyond Reggio, Vivian Gussin-Paley, and a few others, where were the current stories written by teachers about children in their own classrooms? I began to look around for places to write and read these stories. That's when I found the Journal 'Voices of Practitioners'.
Gail Perry is the long time New Book Editor at NAEYC, but I know her as the Editor of 'Voices of the Practitioners'. I am so grateful to Gail, not only for publishing such wonderful work, but also for her nurturing care and attention while editing my own work. I can't imagine a better editor for a first piece of published writing. Gail applied her skill as a researcher, book editor combined with a wealth of knowledge about young children. She really shepherded me and other authors through the whole process.
I am also forever grateful to Gail for pulling me in to a group of educators that I would have never met as a teacher at a small school in Richmond, Virginia. She is a master of bringing people together to make things happen. Gail invited me to present many times at NAEYC conferences in places like Dallas, Orlando and Washington D.C. It was through Gail that I met so many early childhood teachers and researchers who I learned so much from. At these conference presentations I first met and worked with Lella Gandini, Lillian Katz, Barabara Bowman and Vivian Gussin-Paley. I don't think anyone there noticed my shaking knees as I spoke along side these people who I had long admired. What a thrill to finish my talk and then take a seat next to the podium as Vivian Paley told stories from her classroom!
Gail told me a few stories about her most loved and admired Mother, Alice Coe Mendham Powell, a fascinating woman who was a classmate of Margaret Mead, worked for the rights of domestic workers and became the wife of a diplomat who served in the Roosevelt administration. After studying anthropology and child development, and meeting John Dewey and traveling with him in Russia in the 1928s, Alice came to believe that education was the engine of social change. She founded the Green Acres School outside of Washington In 1934. This school was ground-breaking because it was open to all children, used a sliding scale for tuition, and because it brought John Dewey's progressive ideas to to the nation's capitol. Gail grew up at this school, which was located on a farm where the family also lived.
Green Acres school continues today (www.greenacres.org/history.pdf).
I think of Gail often, but more since yesterday, when I learned that her health is not good. I hope she knows what an impact she has made in the world of early childhood education and teacher-research. I hope she knows how much I have appreciated everything that she has done for me. And I hope the care that all of the people she has brought together feel for her, surrounds her now.
*See the newest issue of Voices www.naeyc.org/publications/vop