CHICAGO (WLS) — Pioneering education, education activist and school founder Marva Collins died Wednesday night in South Carolina at age 78, according to her son. Collins started West Side Preparatory School in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood in 1975. She also founded a style of education that came to be known as the “Collins Method.” The Collins Method focused on phonics, math, reading, English and the Classics.
Pioneer in education, Marva Collins gained wide acclaim for her novel approach to teaching at a West Side school she started.
Born Marva Knight in Alabama, Mrs. Collins graduated from Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University.
She moved to Chicago after graduation and took a position as a medical secretary. She later became a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, teaching second grade at Delano Elementary School on the Near West Side, her son said.
She became frustrated with the classroom approach at the public school, her son said.
“It was more playtime, less learning,” he said. “So she cashed in her $5,000 teacher pension, moved her tenants out and taught out of the second floor of her own home. That was her vision.”
Under her guidance, Westside Preparatory School flourished and became nationally known for its success at taking children from impoverished neighborhoods who were often considered unteachable and turning them into solid students.
In 1981, she was portrayed by actress Cicely Tyson in the TV movie “The Marva Collins Story,” which also starred Morgan Freeman. Tyson and Freeman stayed in the Collins family home for a time to prepare for the role, Patrick Collins said.
By 1991, Mrs. Collins was training 1,000 teachers each year on her methods of instilling pupils with a love of learning and an ability to think critically through classic literature. During that time, the school received about 6,000 visitors annually who wanted to know “how we make scholars of children at a time when people lament that nothing can be done,” Mrs. Collins told the Tribune that year.
She had two schools at one point, but both closed by 2008 because of financial issues. However, schools continue to use Mrs. Collins’ teaching techniques, including Joshua Academy in Evansville, Ind., where her son Patrick serves as a methodology specialist.
Outside of her educational work, Mrs. Collins enjoyed reading books on The New York Times best-seller list.
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