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Alumna profile: Mary Ann Anderson—early childhood education matters
Alumna profile: Mary Ann Anderson—early childhood education matters

Mary Ann Anderson (BS ’73, MS ’75) has a lifelong passion for early childhood education and believes that it is the key to a community’s future.

According to Ms. Anderson, a substantial and compelling body of research agrees that early education programs have positive long-term effects on children’s school performance, educational attainment, and adult earnings. In other words, she believes that early childhood education is an investment in our future economic growth, which more than offsets its cost. She says, “The majority of neurons are developed between birth and age three, when the brain’s peak capacity retains new information. Eighty-five percent of who you are—your intellect, your personality, your social skills, is developed by age five. If we can provide quality education for young children before the age of five, the long-term positive results are simply overwhelming.”

Ms. Anderson is a PSU alumna and was the principal of the Beginning School at Oregon Episcopal School, a preschool-through-kindergarten program, from 1971–73. There she developed a program called the Primary Class, which was designed for children who had had one year in kindergarten but were not quite ready for the fast-paced, more structured first-grade curriculum.

Tigard School District passed a levy in 1973, and Ms. Anderson was hired as a curriculum development coordinator and teacher and taught kindergarten and first grade for the district. She eventually left Tigard School District and bought the Mountain Park Learning Tree in Lake Oswego. The school was certified for 120 students, ages 2-1/2 through kindergarten. “What a challenging and exciting time that was,” she says. “I was living my dream. All my teachers were certified, and we created some very exciting curriculum, using a bit of Montessori for structure but allowing children to make choices on which activities they wanted to participate in.”

In 1975 she completed an MS in early childhood education in the PSU School of Education. As a single mother of a three-year-old and with little money, she thought it would be difficult to achieve her educational goals; however, “to my good fortune, the Helen Gordon Child Development Center had just opened up their doors, and my daughter was one of the first children to attend. This meant that I could go to classes knowing that my child was well taken care of.”

Ms. Anderson retired in 1993, and by 1998 had settled on San Juan Island, Washington. There, she and a group of community leaders and professional women came together with concerns about the lack of adequate child care available on the island. After conducting a study and exploring possible solutions, the group established a nonprofit called the San Juan Island Family Resources Network. Now called the Family Umbrella Group, the organization exists to provide early childhood education scholarships to toddlers and preschool-age children.

“Early childhood education is so important to me, because what happens in the earliest years makes a critical difference in a child’s life.” –Mary Ann Anderson

Ms. Anderson prioritizes early childhood education today by helping the Family Umbrella Group create and maintain scholarship funding for preschool education at state-licensed schools. These scholarships are awarded based on financial need, and the group has never turned down a qualified preschool scholarship application. Ms. Anderson is very involved in fundraising for these scholarships, raising donations from private individuals and organizations and, for over a decade, through a beloved annual spring luncheon. The group is able to put 98 percent of its funding toward scholarships.

She is grateful that, thanks in part to her education from the Graduate School of Education, she has been able to put her beliefs into action. She says, “Portland State really made me the person I am!” One of these beliefs is that supporting students in need of financial aid is a moral obligation. To this end, Ms. Anderson recently established a bequest for the Mary Elizabeth York Endowed Scholarship for Early Childhood Education. Mary York was a favorite professor of Ms. Anderson’s at PSU. When realized, this bequest will add to the scholarship’s endowment, which provides much-needed support to students pursuing degrees in early childhood education in the GSE.

You can join Ms. Anderson in supporting early childhood education students and programs in the Graduate School of Education. To discuss options, please contact Jaymee Jacoby, GSE director of development, at 503-725-4789 or, or make a gift today:

Enter the gift amount in the Other field, and in Gift Notes type Mary E. York Endowed Scholarship; then complete the rest of the gift process.