Theory is useful. But without warmth of heart and without love, it bruises the very ones it claims to save. —Andre Gide, Journals
As the beloved mother of eight, devoted grandmother to 10, mentor to dozens and catalyst for educational change to thousands, Pat Bolaños’ influence can never be measured.
In the annals of American education, Pat Bolaños will be remembered for putting theory into practice. At the helm of a small group of teachers, Pat urged them to examine the work of Howard Gardner, Ernest Boyer, David Henry Feldman and others in order to create a school focused on each child’s strengths. Through project-based, theme-based learning, this group of visionaries believed that students could be intrinsically motivated to learn what they needed to know to be active, contributing members of a democratic society. Pat also believed, contrary to current educational practice, that test scores were not a sufficient measurement of a student’s learning. Pat Bolaños came to this visionary role circuitously. She raised a large family, obtained her teaching license and master’s degree and began teaching elementary art. From raising her own children and observing children in her classes, she noticed that each one had his or her own strengths. This observation led her to the development of the Key Learning Community, now a K-12 research and development site for the Indianapolis Public Schools. Pat would often say that we were internationally famous but locally anonymous. Pat spoke about the school’s theories and practices across the United States, in England, Thailand, Mexico and many other countries. She guided visitors from Ireland, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Italy and nearly every state in the U.S. through our school’s bi-monthly visitors’ days and our annual Key Learning Community Institute. As the beloved mother of eight, devoted grandmother to 10, mentor to dozens and catalyst for educational change to thousands, her influence can never be measured. Those administrators, teachers, support staff, parents and students who worked closely with her will remember how everything she did was infused with love. Her love of learning made her tenacious, vigilant and inspiring. We saw her constantly challenge the status quo and the powers that be to prove that they were creating the most positive learning environment for children. Her inspiration awakened in us a viewpoint that something which seemed impossible could actually be accomplished. Whether it was creating an innovative K-12 program or reaching a child who appeared unreachable, we knew Pat was behind us, prodding us to step out of our comfort zones and take the road less traveled. A road with which she was quite familiar. I will choose to remember Pat as I saw her every morning. We both arrived at school early, 7:30 a.m. most mornings. As I signed in, Pat would emerge from her office with a book or magazine article in hand and say with her beautiful smile, “I have something I want to share with you.” That shared information would inevitably work its way into my teaching. Many teachers, parents and students have assured me that Pat Bolaños taught them how to think. She believed that teaching was an art, not to be practiced by the faint of heart, and that we should teach for understanding, not just to impart information. When Pat was last admitted to the hospital, she was still teaching with that loving heart. The admissions nurse, knowing her to be a school principal, asked Pat what the saddest event of her career had been, expecting some tale of a homeless or terminally ill child. Pat replied that the saddest thing she had ever seen was a worthy idea that no one had ever acted upon. Weeks later, the nurse told a visitor that she couldn’t stop thinking about that statement. Pat had once again worked her magic on the unsuspecting. We shall not see her like again, and we are so much the better for having known her. Gari L. Williams teaches at the Key Learning Community.