KOKOMO, Ind. — Marilyn Skinner is doing her best to help children – just like she has for nearly 50 years.
It is this dedication and attitude that has earned her the Torchbearer Award from the Indiana Commission for Women, honoring her as a trailblazer for women. Skinner, director of the Indiana University Kokomo Early Childhood Education Center, was surprised, yet pleased, to be one of 12 honorees.
“I think this is where I’ve had the most impact as an educator, helping parents become better at being their child’s first teacher,” she said. “If you succeed in kindergarten, you are more likely to graduate from high school. If you feel like a failure as a five year old, it’s going to scar you for the rest of your life.
“The expectations for kindergartners are so much higher than they used to be, and we have to do our best to prepare them to succeed,” she added.
Skinner has served as director of the early childhood center since it opened seven years ago, funded by a $1.5 million Lilly Endowment grant. She planned to work there a few months until a permanent director was hired, and has been there ever since.
The Center’s mission is to prepare Howard County children to be ready to succeed in kindergarten. Skinner oversees programs such as Totes for Tots, which loans bags of age-appropriate toys and books to families of preschoolers each month, and an activity room, a free place parents may come play, do crafts or read with their child. She also works with preschool teachers and directors on their curriculum and leads Baby University, which teaches parenting skills to low-income parents and grandparents.
Chancellor Michael Harris congratulated Skinner on her award, and said her efforts have made a tremendous impact on the community and the future education of many children.
“Marilyn is certainly deserving of this award, and we are proud to have her as a leader at Indiana University Kokomo,” said Harris. “The Early Childhood Education Center is one key element of IU Kokomo’s mission to build relationships in our community and prepare children to be successful students through their college years.”
Betsy Corridan, chairwoman of the commission’s board, said Indiana Torchbearers are “those women who have been pioneers throughout their lives, and have stepped forward as leaders by breaking down barriers to women’s full participation.”
“These women have become true beacons of light and their stories of courage, perseverance and compassion create a lasting legacy of inspiration for us all,” Corridan said.
Before her work at IU Kokomo, Skinner had a longstanding, successful career with the Kokomo-Center School Corporation, first as a teacher, then as an administrator. She was the first woman to serve as an assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent in the corporation.
After 15 years as assistant superintendent, Skinner decided to “ease into” retirement by working part time for Head Start. After retirement, she worked for three universities, supervising student teachers for five years, before deciding it was time to “really retire.”
Then, the opportunity at the early childhood education center came along, and “I flunked retirement again,” she said with a laugh.
Skinner said the center is an important resource in Howard County, and she’s glad to be part of it.
“This is a very important part of educating children in our community, and helping their parents teach them,” Skinner said. “I always felt like I was just doing my job. I’m honored that my work was appreciated and seen as important.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.