A half- century ago, Harriet Bruce pioneered the establishing of early childhood education into Suffield’s Public Schools.
No bigger than a pint of peanuts, Harriet is now 102 years old! Parting from her Florida garden, she came with daughter Sharon for a New England visit with daughters Pat and Debbie.
Tracing the history of local education in the mid- 1950’s, a local group of parents wanted education for children before first grade. Planning car-pooling, Suffield Community members chipped in to pay rent for space and salary for staff. They asked Harriet Bruce to prepare a program. “You can imagine how excited I was to say, ’Yes!’ “ Harriet wrote.
An alumna of Boston University where she later became a doctoral candidate, Harriet had spent four years at B. U.’s Ruggle Street Nursery with Montessorian director Abigail Elliot. Harriet had taught at Suffield’s two-room schools at East and South Street.
Suffield Community Kindergarten hired Harriet as director-teacher also hiring the late Irene Cannon Hartley as second teacher and the late Pauline Glaeser as assistant. “What a challenge for the three of us!” Harriet has said.
In September 1958 the kindergarten opened at the Suffield VFW Hall on Sheldon Street. “Finding a facility was quite a challenge,” Harriet recalls. “We were thankful to the veterans. Some were dads of our first kindergartners.”
In1959, Suffield Community Kindergarten gratefully accepted Second Congregational Church’s invitation to rent its West Suffield hall where more space and use of the kitchen were great advantages.
Seven years later early childhood education officially became part of Suffield Public Schools.
With an enrollment of 176 pupils, kindergarten classes began with Harriet Bruce as teacher at Spaulding School. Ten years later Harriet’s husband, the late “Bud” Bruce, would be memorialized by the Bazin Bruce Park adjoining Spaulding School.
Retiring in the late 70’s. Harriet did substitute and religious education teaching before moving to Florida in the 80’s.
Enjoying her creative instincts, Harriet wrote about her siblings, children, grandchildren, great grands and step-great grands. In 1972 she designed and illustrated a 1772 Suffield map for the Calvary Church Fair.
In 1973, Harriet wrote “Words of Children.” Dedicated to Mark Kaplan, a kindergartner who died in an accident that winter, it quoted Mark’s words describing a pine tree after a big snow: “…like a shark’s fin sticking out of the water.”
Harriet also quoted Mark’s philosophical thoughts about time: “What is the hour?” he wondered. “And what is the half?”
Many wonder with him! And thank Harriet for inspiring many students!