Photo Essay—The Susan Gray School: 50 years of national leadership in inclusive early childhood education

The Susan Gray School’s concept of “no barriers” between typically developing children and children with developmental disabilities is exemplified by these playground friends in 2013. Photo by Lauren Holland

From the very beginning, when ground was broken in 1966 for the John F. Kennedy Center at George Peabody College for Teachers, alumna and psychology professor Susan Gray, MA’39, PhD’41, had argued for a model demonstration school. The Experimental School, as it was originally called, would consist of eight classrooms in the building then known as the Mental Retardation Laboratory. It opened in 1968.

Gray knew that a research-oriented, on-campus school was necessary for the continued success of Peabody’s work in human development, psychology and special education. Her Early Training Project, which was the model for the national Head Start program—and other Peabody research centered on early childhood and special education—needed controlled conditions for investigations and a place where in-service training could be accomplished.

Early on, within these eight classrooms the first research took place that introduced typically developing children to classrooms that included children with developmental delays, bringing inclusive education to a nationally recognized educational program. The Toddler Research and Intervention Project demonstrated that children with developmental delays benefit from being educated with their typically developing peers, and vice versa.

Started at a time when children with disabilities were considered uneducable and institutionalized, the school, renamed for Susan Gray in 1986, has proved that working with these children as soon as possible after birth can lead to successful, contributing citizens with a good quality of life. From training parents to work with their infants and toddlers to providing prekindergarten classrooms where students with a variety of backgrounds and abilities are educated together, the Susan Gray School continues to be a special place where researchers can document and improve practices to help all children learn.

Here we celebrate the Susan Gray School’s 50th anniversary with a collection of photographs taken through the years. Archival photos were provided courtesy of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, with special thanks to Jan Rosemergy, Michelle Wyatt and Kylie Mucilli, and by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives. Specific photographers are noted where possible.