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 Our History

How did the Ella Baker School come to be?

The Ella Baker School was founded in 1996 to provide an option for families who study and work at neighboring institutions. Our formation was influenced by many great thinkers and groundbreaking schools. Ted Sizer's leadership within the Coalition of Essential Schools and Deborah Meier's vision of child-centered, progressive education were influential in shaping the vision and mission of the school. Meier's work took root in 1974 with the founding of Central Park East 1, a source of inspiration for many schools that followed.

The Ella Baker School continues to be a leader and laboratory in child-centered education. We remain dedicated to our work with children, guiding them to learn through active engagement, to think critically, and to participate in a democratic society.

Who was Ella Baker?

Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 - December 13, 1986) was often called "a leader behind the scenes" in the movement for civil rights. She spent many of her working years in Harlem, New York; although, she traveled extensively throughout the country organizing, giving speeches, and working for renowned organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”).

Ella Baker never wanted the spotlight as a charismatic, central figure. As she said, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” She believed in the power of individuals coming together in grassroot networks to make choices and take action for their communities. She believed in the power of young people, supporting youth and student groups throughout her career.

Miss Ella Baker never intended to be a teacher. However, through her life’s example of listening to the needs of people, helping to foster their leadership, and promoting their decisions to act, she became the very model of a great teacher.


Further Reading

Grant, Joanne. Ella Baker: Freedom Bound. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Meier, Deborah. The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem. Boston: Beacon, 2002.

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