A Pioneer in Literacy Education Leaves a Lasting Impact at BU
Margaret J. Early didn't just want to teach; she wanted to find the best possible ways to teach-for herself, and others.
Early (PAL'45, GRS'48, SED'54) devoted her life to advancing the field of literacy education. Even after her death in 2008, she's still helping students-from inner-city middle-schoolers to post-graduates-succeed in every step of their educational careers.
After earning her bachelor's degree at the Boston University School of Practical Arts and Letters and her master's in English, Early became a secondary education teacher in Walpole, Massachusetts, where she saw many students who had come up through the public school system yet still had problems reading, even in high school. That's when she discovered her life's work. By learning all she could about how reading was taught, she would help try to help all schoolchildren become better readers. She headed back to BU and, with financial support from a Warren Research Fellowship, earned her doctorate in reading education at the School of Education.
Early went on to become a renowned specialist in literary education: teaching at Syracuse University and the University of Florida, and penning books and articles that have become required reading for teachers across the country. Throughout her career, she remained connected to BU, contributing regularly to the PAL and School of Education Annual Funds. In 1994, the School honored her career with an Ida M. Johnson Distinguished Alumni Award. That year, Early donated $100,000 to the School, creating a mentorship program that paired senior visiting professors with doctoral students.
Early's philanthropic spirit extended beyond her own alma mater, reaching a sixth-grade class at an urban Syracuse middle school. In 2001, she established the Early Incentive Scholarship-her way of encouraging these students, many of whom had never planned to go to college, to pursue higher education. In return for achieving specific academic goals through middle and high school, the students earned scholarship money to put toward university tuition.
"Not all of our youngsters hold the hope of going to college," said Early when she established the program. "The sooner we give them hope, the more their lives will be improved throughout their schooling." In June 2008, six members of Early's adopted class received their high school diplomas-and a total of $126,000 in scholarship money.
That same day, by coincidence, Early passed away.
In her will, she left Boston University a generous gift: adding to a $300,000 donation she had made in 2006, Early decreed that $50,000 each year would be given to BU from the Margaret Early Charitable Trust to establish the Margaret and John Early Scholarship at the School of Education, named in honor of her parents. The scholarship provides financial support to doctoral students at SED majoring in literacy education, enabling aspiring teachers to follow her path, and help change education for the better.