On August 31st 1936, Marva Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama, at a time where educational discrimination was blatantly normal. Marva’s father Henry Knight made sure Marva and her sister would receive the best education they could despite discrimination. Blacks living in Monroeville did not have the same resources to earn a suitable education as the white children. With determination and a strong family structure Collins was able to defy the odds and earn admission into Clark College; which is now Clark Atlanta. After graduating from Clark College she taught within the Alabama school system for two years. Her next step was moving to Chicago and becoming a teacher within the school system.
After moving to Chicago she met who would eventually become her husband Mr. Clarence Collins. Mrs. Collins work as an educator within the Chicago school system for 14 years which helped shape her views on the school system. She believed that the system was flawed and did not help to advance the students who attended the schools. Her displeasure with the school system turned out to become a blessing in disguise. Mrs. Collins used $5,000 of her retirement funds to open the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. She opened the school on the second floor of her home in the Garfield Park area. Mrs. Collins opened her doors to any students who wanted to attend her school.
She was adamant about educating the children that everyone else had given up on. Mrs. Collins was very serious about education and the positive effects it had on a person. She also believed that you should never give up on a child. During an interview with Ebony magazine she stated; “If Abraham Lincoln was enrolled in public schools today, he would probably be in a learning disability program. Lincoln didn’t learn to read until age 14. No one should rule any child out of the educational picture.” She stressed the idea of using education to better the lives of her people. Her dedication to education was showing early. After only a year of opening her school her students test scores were significantly higher that they tested the year prior.
Mrs. Collins used her brilliance to create a method of teaching that would push the students to give their best. Her method was called “The Collins Method;” it was centered on students learning through phonics, math, reading, English and classic literature. She was able to teach the children that were viewed as undesirables anything ranging from Homer to Plato. She stressed reading requiring her students to complete her mandated reading list. Mrs. Collins believed that students didn’t fail subjects teachers fail students. The success of her school gained national attention. She was featured in Time Magazine and Newsweek. She was also profiled on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. Her love for her students and education was spreading throughout the country.
In 1982 Marva Collins’ life was depicted in a full length film and Cicely Tyson played the role of Marva Collins. As the school grew Mrs. Collins moved the school from her apartment building to its own building on the South Side of Chicago. She was also able to open locations for her school in Ohio and Florida, expanding her message to many more undesired children. The impact of Mrs. Collins’ educational efforts has allowed her to become a public speaker and a trusted advocate for education. She has authored several books, and received numerous honors for her efforts. She has received several awards such as the Humanitarian Award for Excellence and honorary doctorates from Amherst, Dartmouth, and Notre Dame. In 2004 she was honored by President Bush with the National Humanities Medal. In 2008 the Westside Preparatory School closed because of a lack of funds but the impact Mrs. Collins made will never be forgotten. She has taken children that others believed could not learn and turned them into doctors, lawyers, and successful business men and women. Mrs. Collins was dedicated to uplifting the minds of her students and that is exactly what she did. Marva Collins we thank you for your dedication to the children you taught and your dedication to education. Mrs. Marva Collins we stand on your shoulders.
click below to view the Marva Collins video