“I don’t see well, I don’t hear well, and I can’t walk at all, but other than that, I’m doing pretty good." So says my new hero, Mildred Winter, the former Kindergarten teacher in the Ferguson-Florissant school district who pioneered the Parents As Teachers (PAT) program which is now in all fifty states and nine countries. "I’m 96 years old and I feel an obligation to contribute something since I’m still here.”
As a teacher, Winter observed that her kindergarten students who came from parents who read to them, taught them, and gave them new experiences were much more advanced than those who did not. Research later showed that children who come from homes without such opportunities never caught up to their peers. This gap motivated Winter to begin PAT so that every parent could learn how to support their child’s development beginning at birth. Using resources from neuroscientists on brain development, along with educational ideas and home visits, PAT began steadily enhancing the brain growth of children by educating their parents. Gone were the days when teachers told parents not to teach their child anything, but to leave it to the school, whose teachers would do it ‘right' when kids arrived as a blank slate.
PAT is for children prior to starting Kindergarten; Winter’s current goal is to extend the program to include Kindergarten so parents and teachers can benefit from the unique PAT approach of teaching the neuroscience of a child’s brain development and also to encourage teacher visits to the homes of their students. Winter talks on the phone regularly with Stephen Barr, the Assistant Commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (a department Winter ran for eleven years) toward fulfilling this goal. Winter's goal is to get this prjoject included on the Agenda for August Administrators Conference for Missouri School Superintendents. If you know your Superintendent, please send them this article as a heads up for their upcoming conference in Jefferson City! I will be calling the two Superintendents I know!
In addition to her passion as an educator, Mildred Winter models for us Christian vocation—being used by God to bring good to the world. Mildred embodies a refreshing reminder that this is a job from which we never retire!