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On the first day of class, teacher Marva Collins approached a boy who refused to work and told him:

‘I am not going to give up on you. I’m not going to let you give up on yourself. If you sit there leaning against this wall all day, you are going to end up leaning on something or someone all your life. And all that brilliance bottled up inside you will go to waste.’

Photo by Mladen Penev

Educator Marva Collins took on inner-city Chicago kids who had been rejected by the school system. Many had been labeled retarded or disturbed. One pupil stabbed children with pencils. Another removed sharpener blades and cut up his classmates’ coats, hats and scarves. Frustrated by teaching practices and attitudes in the public school system, Marva was determined to give the kids the time and attention they needed – so she opened her own school.

Chicago's Westside Preparatory School was founded in 1975 in Marva’s home and although she soon had to move to bigger premises, she ran the school for the next 30 years.

By offering individual attention, strong core skills and strict discipline, Collins was able to dramatically improve the test scores of her students, many of whom went on to college.

‘There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.’ she says, and a former student recently commented on YouTube:

‘I attended her school from like 1983 or 1984 to 1990 when I graduated. I think the most important thing she gave us was confidence in ourselves. You really believe you can have the world at your fingertips. The economy is killing me and everyone else, but I am a Realtor today. I miss her voice. I miss her randomly coming in the classroom leaning over your shoulder saying ‘You can do it, bright boy’.

Marva says: ‘I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.’

The success of the school brought Marva to the attention of the media and her teaching methods have been widely used by teachers and school administrators across the US.

‘Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail,’ she says.


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