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.
Susan Gray breaks ground for the John F. Kennedy Center of George Peabody College for Teachers in August 1966.
Along with the Bill Wilkerson Center (before its merger with Vanderbilt University Medical Center), the Experimental School piloted inclusive education of hearing children with deaf and hearing-impaired children. Photo from 1968.
Early on, the Experimental School developed a model program for integrating children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities with typically developing children in classrooms. Photo from 1969.
The Bright Start cognitive curriculum—developed by H. Carl Haywood, emeritus professor of psychology and director of the Kennedy Center from 1971 to 1983—originated at the Susan Gray School. A research-based early intervention program now used nationally and internationally, it was designed to increase learning in children most at risk for school failure. Photo from the 1980s.
The Toddler Research and Intervention Project developed by Diane Bricker, PhD’70, devised and evaluated aspects of educational intervention with children ages 1–4 who had moderate to severe developmental problems. Photo from the 1970s.
Former Vanderbilt Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt (left) and Peabody College Dean Willis Hawley (standing) honor Susan Gray for her life’s work with the naming of the Susan Gray School for Children in 1986.
Peabody student Kelly Finan, center, concerned about a lack of access to playground equipment for students with disabilities, raised money to make the Susan Gray School playground more accessible. The Finan Family Playground was dedicated in 2008. Photo by John Russell
Peabody undergraduate and graduate students studying early childhood education, special education, cognitive studies and neuroscience volunteer in classrooms and conduct research in many areas. Susan Gray Fellow Lexi Schulenburg (BS’16, MEd’18), shown here in 2017, completed her master’s thesis on methods of Enhanced Milieu Teaching strategies. EMT is a naturalistic language intervention that uses play as an opportunity for adults to model expressive language for children. Photo by Joe Howell
Susan Gray School students participate in the Halloween Pumpkin Parade in 2018. Photo by Steve Green