Born Marva Delores Knight
August 31, 1936
Died June 28, 2015 (aged 78)
Beaufort County, South Carolina
Years active 1975–2008
Marva Delores Collins (née Knight; August 31, 1936 – June 24, 2015) was an American educator who in 1975 started Westside Preparatory School in the impoverished Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.
1 Early life
2.1 Westside Preparatory School
2.2 Media coverage
2.3 Kevin Ross
2.4 Career highlights
2.5 Teaching methods
4 Personal life
5 Works and publications
Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama, to father, Henry Collins, a businessman who owned a funeral home and worked with cattle, and to mother, Bessie Collins (née Nettles). She grew up in Atmore, Alabama, a small town near Mobile, Alabama, during the time of segregation in the American South.
When she was young, Collins went to a strict elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse in Atmore, Alabama, an experience which influenced her later in life. She graduated from Clark College (now known as Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Collins taught school for two years in Alabama, then moved to Chicago in 1959, where she taught as a full-time substitute teacher in inner-city Chicago public schools for fourteen years.
Westside Preparatory School
Dismayed at the low levels of learning she felt the students were experiencing, in 1975 Collins took $5,000 from her teacher's retirement fund and started a private school in the top floors of the brownstone in the West Garfield Park neighborhood where she lived.
The school she started was called Westside Preparatory School. Westside Prep became an educational and commercial success.
Collins created her low-cost private school specifically for the purpose of teaching low income African American children whom Collins felt that the Chicago Public School System had labeled as being learning disabled. Collins said she had the data to prove that students were teachable and were able to overcome obstacles of learning via her teaching methods, which she said eliminated behavioral issues and allowed students to flourish.
Collins and her daughter ran the school for more than 30 years until it closed in 2008 due to lack of sufficient enrollment and funding.
Collins was most well-known, after appearing in a featured news article on CBS's 60 Minutes, for the 1981 docudrama TV movie based on her life's work, The Marva Collins Story, starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman. Tyson said she spent time with Collins to research for the role.
The 60 Minutes feature was inspired by a 1970s article written by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Zay N. Smith about Collins and Westside Prep.
In 1982, Kevin Ross, a 23-year-old Creighton University basketball player, got to his senior year of college without being able to read. With the assistance of a Creighton booster, Ross enrolled in second grade at Westside Prep. With private tutoring by Collins, Ross learned how to read and graduated in May 1983. Ross had difficulties continuing his education, but when he had serious troubles, Collins was instrumental in helping him.
Due to the success of her teaching methods, it was reported that President Ronald Reagan wanted to nominate Collins to the position of Secretary of Education, but Collins took herself out of the running for the position. In 1983, Reagan cited Collins during an unveiling of a national program to combat adult illiteracy.
In 1994, Prince featured Collins in his music video "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." He also donated $500,000 to the Westside Preparatory School Teacher Training Institute, which was created to teach Collins' teaching methodology.
In 1996, Collins was hired to supervise three Chicago public schools that had been placed on probation.
In 2004, Collins received a National Humanities Medal, among many awards for her teaching and efforts at school reform.
During the 2006–07 school year, Collins' school charged $5,500 for tuition, and parents said the school did a much better job than the Chicago public school system, which budgeted $11,300 per student. The authorities complained that this was not enough.
Collins was known for applying classical education, in particular the Socratic method, modified for use in primary schools, successfully with impoverished students, many of whom she believed had been wrongly labeled as learning disabled by public schools. Collins criticized the teaching of the students, not the students themselves. She wrote a number of manuals, books and motivational tracts describing her history and methods.
In 1982 and in subsequent articles, Collins has been criticized by George N. Schmidt from Substance News, who claims that Collins' work was fraudulent. Collins denied any fraud. At the time, Collins had both supporters and detractors.
Collins was married to Clarence Collins. She had two sons Patrick and Eric and a daughter Cynthia. She died June 24, 2015 in Beaufort County, South Carolina, aged 78, while in hospice care.
Works and publications
Collins, Marva, Bert Kruger Smith, and Charlene Warren. A Conversation with Marva Collins: A Different School. From The Human Condition. Austin, Tex: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the University of Texas, 1982. OCLC 8257640
Collins, Marva, and Civia Tamarkin. Marva Collins' Way. New York: Putnam, 1990. Foreword by Alex Haley. 2nd ed. ISBN 978-0-874-77572-3 OCLC 32523785
Collins, Marva. Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers. Norfolk, VA: Hampton Roads Pub. Co, 1992. ISBN 978-1-878-90141-5 OCLC 26790433
Collins, Marva. Values: Lighting the Candle of Excellence: A Practical Guide for the Family. Los Angeles, CA: Dove Books, 1996. ISBN 978-0-787-11040-6 OCLC 35896951
CBS News. Marva. 60 Minutes. New York: Carousel Films, 1979. OCLC 19834079
Dave Bell Associates. Success! The Marva Collins Approach. Wilmette, Ill: Television Licensing Center, 1984. OCLC 11311358
Collins, Marva. Too Good to Be True? 60 Minutes. New York: CBS Video, 1995. OCLC 33502110 - follow up to original 60 Minutes segment.
Robbins, Anthony, Marva Collins, and Peter Lynch. Anthony Robbins' Powertalk! The Power of Life Metaphors. San Diego, CA: Anthony Robbins, 2004. OCLC 65197212
Holzgang, Conrad, Clifford Campion, Peter Levin, Cicely Tyson, and Morgan Freeman. The Marva Collins story. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2008. ISBN 978-1-419-85861-1 OCLC 185036842
1981: Jefferson Awards for Public Service - Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged
2004: National Endowment for the Humanities - National Humanities Medalist
Alpha Kappa Alpha - Honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority