Baker Demonstration School’s website promises an education that’s “anything but textbook.” That tradition might make clear why the school has thrived for more than a hundred years.
This fall, its 101st and counting, Baker teachers welcomed some 270 students — pre-school to 8th grade. They were eager to begin a second century of progressive teaching whereby children learn through doing and playing along with other best teaching practices. They are teaching in spiffed up facilities, shown at right with middle school students working on a science experiment and below with fifth-graders solving a math puzzle.
In 2005 Baker became financially independent, cutting its 87-year ties to National College of Education, by then called National Louis University. Baker had been National’s laboratory school but NLU planned to move to Chicago. To keep Baker going, school parents bought the campus in 2006. They tore down everything except the Dem school building, enlarged the playground and sold the rest of the land for redevelopment. Income from the land sales was usied to boost endowment and upgrade facilities. By selling so much land in Evanston, the school even got a new address, 201 Sheridan Road, Wilmette.
Carly Andrews, Dem School director since 2017, says the school carries on in the tradition of Clara Belle Baker, John Dewey and Francis Parker by focusing on hands-on learning, learning by doing and teaching the whole child, brain, body and emotions. By these methods, she says, students will become “life-long” learners.
Baker’s first kindergarten classroom opened in 1918 when it began as a laboratory school for National Kindergarten and Elementary College, founded in 1886 as the Chicago Kindergarten College. The Children’s School was started by two Evanston sisters — Clara Belle Baker, director 1918-52, and Edna Dean Baker, then acting president of the College. Back then, Baker was called the Children’s School.
It was located in Chicago on the college campus at 2944 S. Michigan Blvd. in a mansion now isolated but once part of the city’s Millionaires’ Row. It was built for Sidney Kent, a co-founder of the Union Stockyards, and later owned by John “Bet-a-Million” Gates.