The 2017 Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Award

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The 2017 Wheelock College Spring Alumni Symposium was a success with highlights such as the announcement of the Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Award winner. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody is best known as a teacher and educational reformer, and more specifically as the mother of kindergarten in America. Inspired by the work and philosophies of Friedrich Froebel, she established the first kindergarten in Boston in 1860. Ms. Peabody was also a popular instructor in training courses for kindergarten teachers, and it was she who encouraged a young Lucy Wheelock to enroll. It has been written about Miss Peabody that she “had a particular affinity for finding unity amidst all kinds of diversity — social, cultural, historical, aesthetic, and linguistic — and above all a powerful drive to express her philosophical idealism in concrete ways.”

Miss Peabody was Ms. Wheelock’s mentor. To recognize her, the Wheelock College Alumni Association presents this award annually to an alumna/us of a graduate program at the College who reflects Miss Peabody’s commitment to diversity and education, and the values of Wheelock College.

This year, with nominations from Kathy Morton Ivory ’76, Ann Beardhell Hollister, and Deborah Maher ’73AS/’73BS, Deborah “Debbie” Milne ’73/’80MS was the recipient of the 2017 Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Award. She was unfortunately unable to attend as she was vacationing in FL.

Debbie will retire this year after collaborating with the alumni who nominated her beginning in the 1970s on Martha’s Vineyard, and while sharing the strong educational foundation and inspiration they each received at Wheelock College.

They each revered Helen Maley, who founded Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Early Childhood Program, or MVCS ECP. Debbie has worked tirelessly to build upon Helen’s vision, which was: “When we accept seriously the idea that children and their care are the most important clue to future possibilities and real values, we will be on a new road to civilization of a higher order.”

Debbie has been a stimulating mentor to Wheelock College undergraduate Early Childhood Education students as a supervisor and seminar leader. When she became the director of MVCS ECP, it was — in one of the nominator’s words — “a fledgling collaborative of Family Day Care Systems. … We have witnessed Debbie’s remarkable stewardship of the growth and development of MVCS ECP as a vibrant and vital childcare center for the children, families, and community on the Vineyard, which has grown significantly in numbers and diversity during her directorship.”

In the early 1980s, Debbie, along with several others, created the Martha’s Vineyard Council for Young Children — or MVCYC. The Council has been instrumental in acquiring funds for programs throughout the years, and remains a strong collaborative force today. Also in the 1980s, Debbie began planning and designing a new facility for an early childhood center on the MVCS campus with expanded options for parents and child care to include infant and toddler classrooms, along with preschool and pre-K classrooms.

During the 1990s, Debbie worked closely with the Children’s Trust Fund and the local high school to open a Family Center on its campus. The High School Vocational Education Department offered a child development class for students to have hands-on experience with children and teachers in a learning lab. One of the students is now a lead teacher in the preschool classroom.

A professional colleague who has worked with Debbie for more than 30 years says: “In her role as director, she has worked tirelessly to create an environment on Martha’s Vineyard that nurtures the quality of life for all children and families. She has hired staff members who reflect her beliefs and works closely with parents, is respectful of each child’s and family’s culture and language, and is responsive to the inclusion of a variety of learning styles.”

Wheelock College congratulates Debbie for this acknowledgement and thanks her for her commitment to improving the lives of children and families!

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