Fifth City Child Development Institute
Opened in Summer 1965, the Fifth City Preschool was the first structure that applied the changing of images through a structure, a curriculum, a time design, and the entire school environment. Red and black stood for the African American Community, creating the school colors for the school.
The preschool had four schools within the school - Infant, Mini, Pre, and Kinder. The Four schools were able to focus on the unique development of each age level from 18 weeks until age five.
The Infant School
The Infant School served children from sixteen weeks until they were eighteen months (or potty trained). A daily schedule and lesson plans provided continuity. Each month the infant curriculum emphasized a different global culture. Preschool staff learned from Professors Dolman and Delacotto at the University of Illinois that babies could read if the letters of words were written large enough, they incorporated reading into diaper changing time.
The Mini School
Mini School served children from eighteen months until they turned two. The 1967 Mini School Manual described the school’s eight week lesson plan. A summary of mini-school learnings are shared in a 1973 report, 5th City Preschooling Institute: An Experiment in Early Education.
Beginning in 1965, the Preschool was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Head Start Program “because of its provocative approach to change images through art, images, dreams and metaphors.” The daily curriculum and environment bombards the preschoolers with strong positive images of personal integrity, freedom and creativity through rituals and songs. Karen Bueno documented the preschool songs in Children Singing the New Millennium. These songs often took old familiar songs parents knew from their past and rewrote the words to reflect the images of the present day. For instance, “Old McDonald Had a Farm” became “Voom, Room Astronaut.” The Fifth City Preschool was recognized by Headstart in 1969 as “one of the ten best preschools in the nation.”
As children turned five years of age, they would begin to participate in a rite of passage of Preschool Graduation, moving from preschool to a half day of public school kindergarten and the other half day attending Kinder School. Marjorie Branch, the former principal at Erickson Elementary School, told 5th City Preschool staff that the Kinder Schoolers were always ahead of the other children without a preschool education because they had a “strong personal identity, an appreciation for learning and working with others, a sense of delight and wonder, and the ability to communicate with confidence.”
The Fifth City Preschool is one of the longest running federally funded preschools in the nation. Their pioneering curriculum implemented educational techniques that focused on: BASIC (reading, math, and language), RELATIONAL (learning how to live and act with one's family and friends as well as becoming aware of the city/state/nation/world one is a part of), PSYCHOLOGICAL (developing personal skills), and IMAGINAL (developing personal self-images and social images of responsibility)
The entire school environment was focused on constantly projecting positive images to the preschoolers about themselves and their lives. This included the decor on the walls, the songs sung throughout the day, informal conversations as well as the formal teaching.
Ruth Carter (1936-2013), the dynamic former teacher and director of the Fifth City Preschool, believed the school’s resilience came from its ability to establish a basic foundation for Black children. With each staff member located or once resided on the West Side of Chicago, this created a sense of familiarity in the classrooms. “Many of the children come from a second generation of parents who were also students at the school,” Carter stated in a 1990 article published by the Chicago Defender. She continues to mention that development education “has to do with each child’s creativity and helping to build that child’s mind.”
Carter was later honored in 2014 by changing Trumbull Ave., near Fifth Ave., to Ruth Carter Lane.
More about Ruth Carter: Chicago Defender article and audio recording
Video: Fifth City Preschool Kaze Gadway
Four Schools Within a Preschool
THE FIFTH CITY PRESCHOOL (CHICAGO, 1967-68)