Friday, May 9, 2014

Tom Little: A Champion for Progressive Education and Youth Development

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
Those of us who are committed to progressive education principles and their use in classroom and out-of-school learning programs lost a great friend last week with the passing of Tom Little.

Tom was one of three founding teachers of Park Day School in 1976, a progressive K-6 school in Oakland, CA. I had the pleasure of teaching at Park Day School for five years, two of those years as a co-teacher with Tom. Nearly everything I know about youth and youth development came from this experience. 
Tom Little - Photo by Benjamin Smith


Tom went on to become the Director of Park Day in 1986. Under his leadership, Park Day expanded to include a middle school and managed to buy the property that is now their beautiful campus.

I also had the opportunity to experience Tom's leadership as a parent at Park Day. Tom was masterful at creating a sense of community and ensuring that all children engaged in what we now call social emotional learning (SEL). We used to think of Park Day School as our church in passing along the values of citizenship and social justice. 

Tom was a relentless defender of youth development and progressive education. While at CNYD, I led several tours of afterschool practitioners through Park Day classrooms to allow practitioners to see youth development in action within a classroom setting. 
Park Day School
Photo Credit: Progressive Education Network

In partnership with Temescal Associates and the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project, Tom hosted a public showing of Brooklyn Castle, participated in an LIAS video, speaking in support of the LIAS learning principles, and provided access to the Park Day campus for the taping of several other interviews with afterschool leaders. He was committed to equity in education and freed up teachers and youth to provide support to local public schools. 

Last year, Tom used his sabbatical to visit progressive schools across the country. He wrote a book about this experience, which will be published in the near future. Tom's legacy will live on for a long time, through the demonstration by the practices at Park Day School. He was a good friend and inspiration to a large number of East Bay families, youth, and educators. He will be sorely missed. 




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In 2001, Tom Little was awarded a Klingenstein Visiting Heads Fellowship. From 1997-2003, he served as the Private School Representative on the Mayor's Oakland Education Cabinet. He served on the Board of Directors for the Oakland Academic Stars, an organization providing college scholarships for public school students in Oakland. He also served on the Board of Wingspan, a national organization sponsoring public and private school partnerships. He served on the Board of the Progressive Education Network, a national organization of educators working to advance progressive educational practices throughout the United States. Tom consulted on educational matters with public and private schools in the Bay Area and in Ireland. 

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