Throughout Teachers College’s hugely successful Campaign, Where the Future Comes First, Suzanne M. Murphy has urged donors to “fund your passion” – that is, to support student scholarship, faculty research or capital improvements in the areas closest to their hearts.
“Making a gift to an institution can seem complicated and daunting,” says Murphy, TC’s Vice President for Development & External Affairs, “but when you think, ‘What’s my goal? What do I care most about, and what do I want to see happen?’ it becomes much simpler.”
But what if, like Murphy, you care about everything? What gift do you give when you’re the institution’s chief fundraiser, and an alumna to boot?
“It’s tricky,” says Murphy, who earned her advanced degrees in TC's programs in Social & Organizational Psychology and Higher Education (both in the department of Organization & Leadership). “You want to do something that resonates with the entire community, and that really reinforces the message of the Campaign.”
Murphy already is engaged in crowd-sourced fundraising efforts for the Organization & Leadership department. Now an additional answer came to her and her husband, Jeff Barker, from a surprising source: their twin sons, Timmy and Michael. The boys, age 11, have been applying to middle school in Manhattan, and recently they shared their most important criterion for choosing.
“They said, ‘Mom, which middle schools is most like Rita Gold?’” recalls Murphy.
“Making a gift to an institution can seem complicated and daunting but when you think, ‘What’s my goal? What do I care most about, and what do I want to see happen?’ it becomes much simpler.”
—Suzanne M. Murphy
The Barker boys were referring, of course, to TC’s Rita Gold Early Childhood Education Center, located on the second floor of Thorndike Hall, where they spent two years as pre-K students. “They really feel that Rita Gold helped them discover learning – or as they say, ‘learning by doing,’” says Jeff Barker, the boys' father. “The way the teachers build off the kids’ interests and use spontaneous play as a way of launching inquiry and exploration really grabbed their attention. And when they said that, Suzanne and I knew immediately what our gift was going to be.”
The new Rita W. Gold Scholarship for Children of Teachers College Employees, created by the Barker family, supports the tuition at the Rita Gold Center of one or more children whose family is employed by Teachers College and demonstrates financial need. The recipients of the scholarship will be selected by the Rita Gold Center staff.
“The Rita Gold Center is such a tremendous resource, not only for kids, but for parents in the TC community who need to be able to bring their young children to school and have them nearby,” Murphy says. “And it supports the learning of TC students, in part by having a diverse mix of children, which enriches their student teaching experience. But the cost can be prohibitive for many employees. So we wanted to do something to help make that resource more accessible to everyone.”
Equal access is essential, she adds, because the Gold Center emphasizes on the importance of a diverse classroom, enriched by the knowledge, abilities and languages of young children from different cultures.
“For me, in my role leading the Campaign, this felt like the ideal gift, because our Campaign has been all about building and strengthening the TC community. And there’s nothing that strengthens the community more than helping TC families.”
Of course, the Rita Gold Center, which serves infants, toddlers and preschoolers of Columbia-affiliated families, is also a mainstay of TC’s multidisciplinary efforts in early childhood education and development. In work that cuts across the fields of brain development, genetics, mathematical thinking, language skills, education policy, emotional self-regulation and more, researchers at the College have been leaders in demonstrating the extraordinary window of opportunity that children’s earliest years provide for learning.
“They really feel that Rita Gold helped them discover learning – or as they say, ‘learning by doing.’ The way the teachers build off the kids’ interests and use spontaneous play as a way of launching inquiry and exploration really grabbed their attention. And when they said that, Suzanne and I knew immediately what our gift was going to be.”
“Vygotsky wrote that ‘in play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviors; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself,’” says Souto-Manning, referring to early 20th century Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. “Young children know a lot through their families and communities, and are capable communicators even if not in the so-called standard English. Pre-K teachers must be researchers who identify and tap into these funds of knowledge.”
Encouraging native and second languages is essential.
Murphy’s gift is also intended to ensure the diversity among the children and families who are served by the Rita Gold Center
The Gold Center approach has (and continues to be) shaped by much of that cutting-edge work, but it is also rooted in the work of thinkers like Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky and – of course – John Dewey – whose observations about children and the importance of play have stood the test of time. The Center practices what director Patrice Nichols calls an “emergent curriculum” built on each day’s experience.
“What happens in the classroom comes from the lived life of the classroom,” Nichols says. “We create learning opportunities by noticing what children find meaningful and interesting. It’s different than judging your success based on kids accomplishing predetermined goals.”
In today’s pressured world of standardized tests and endless applications at each new level of school, those words can be hard to keep in mind. But Timmy and Michael Barker seem to have that lesson down.
The Barker family welcomes anyone inspired by supporting TC families to visit the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center and add to their scholarship fund. To contribute, contact Linda Colquhoun at 212 678-3679.