Marva Collins (1936-2015) was an educator who started Westside Preparatory School in the impoverished Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois in 1975. Her own childhood in Alabama, where segregation meant limited resources for black schools and no access to the public library, seems an unlikely training ground for an educator. For Collins, her father made the difference. He placed a high value on education, self-reliance, and achievement, and expected his children to succeed. « We were expected to be excellent, » she says, « we didn’t have a choice. »
« All children can learn, » says educator Marva Collins. « For thirty years, we have done what other schools declare impossible, » explains Collins, who has trained more than one hundred thousand teachers, principals, and administrators in the methodology developed and practiced at her Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. « I don’t make excuses, I take responsibility. If children fail, it’s about me, not them. I tell my students, if you think excellence is difficult, you don’t want to try failure. »
Collins says the critical element is instilling self-worth and convincing children that they are born to succeed. « Values can be replicated, excellence can be replicated, but it has to begin with the idea that everything is about me, not the other person, and about being proud of my work. Many parents are busy giving their children everything except a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. »
Due to the success of her teaching methods. President Reagan asked her to be secretary of education, but she declined in favor of staying at Westside. Collins continued spreading her methodology to public schools in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Wisconsin. In 1983, Reagan cited Collins during an unveiling of a national program to combat adult illiteracy. In 1994, Prince featured Collins in his music video « The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. » He also donated $500,000 to the Westside Preparatory School Teacher Training Institute, which was created to teach Collins’ teaching methodology. In 1996, Collins was hired to supervise three Chicago public schools that had been placed on probation. In 2004, Collins received a National Humanities Medal, among many awards for her teaching and efforts at school reform.
« Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail. » Marva Collins