The United States can predict the prison population by analyzing third-grade reading scores. Just ask longtime educator Susan ‘Suzie’ Nall, who explains with proven statistics how investing in young children’s education can decrease many of our tax-paying dollars used to correct social problems and mental health issues. “Our culture needs to make young children more of a priority. Eighty percent of the human brain is developed by age 3.”
Economists call early childhood education one of the most efficient investments the government can make, returning an average of $10 for every $1 invested. Nall laments that there are some countries in the world that are far ahead of the U.S. in valuing education for young children. “Even though we have made progress in the last 30 years, the U.S. is still lagging behind,” she says.
For the past 40 years, Nall has expressed her genuine passion toward the advancement of young childhood education as an author, lecturer, researcher and consultant. Her emphasis is on working with teachers to help young children reach their potential. “Children are children, and they deserve good educations, regardless of their ethnicity, country of origin, or whether they wear a burka, an abaya, or polos and chinos in West County,” she says.
Nall received her Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Education, Curriculum and Supervision. She has served as an international consultant for the country of Qatar, where students attend school according to gender. “There, teachers use ‘drill and skill’ with an incredible amount of worksheets that require no creative thinking and problem-solving.” Nall’s positive influence on the country can be heard in the words of Asma, one of the teachers in Qatar: Ms. Susan, you have changed my life as a mother and as a teacher. I need to allow my preschool children to make decisions and to have choices. In addition to Qatar, Nall also has traveled to Azerbaijan six times as an international consultant to encourage writing curriculum, where only 16 percent of the children younger than 7 attend school.
Nall, who began her career as a classroom teacher, was a professor of education at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE) for more than 30 years, and director of its Early Childhood Education program. “Teacher quality and effectiveness is the most important factor impacting a child’s development and learning. I have always believed that whether you are an infant or an adult, teaching is what goes on outside your head and learning is what goes on inside your head,” Nall says. “Children tell us what they understand, but adults are often too hasty to direct and correct, and fail to listen.” Nall also expresses her concern about the use of technology with the young. “Gross motor skills, like kicking, jumping and running, are being compromised because children are constantly using their electronic devices. This lack of verbal interaction affects their overall relationships,” she adds.
Nall has been lauded locally for her professional and volunteer work. She was named SIUE Outstanding Junior Professor, as well as Outstanding Alumna at Webster University. She also has been honored as a Woman of Achievement and a Woman of Worth.
Today, the petite, 60-something redhead is the mother of two daughters and grandmother to five grandchildren. “My grandchildren have donated books from their collection to pass on to other children who have limited access to books. They also help wrap gifts each year for Santa’s Helpers. It’s important that they learn to be compassionate, live their lives with integrity, appreciate the small things in life, have a strong sense of community, value their education and be happy.” She knows that St. Louis is a very charitable city and hopes that the community will continue instilling volunteerism within its youth. “It’s a way of thinking and a way of living…putting your needs secondary to others.”
Nall serves on the board of directors of Ready Readers, St. Louis County Library Foundation, SIUE, Foundation Board, Metro Theatre, and Flance Management Inc. She also supports local arts and a number of service-oriented organizations. Each week, you can find Nall volunteering at the USO at Lambert Airport, serving food, checking luggage and extending hospitality and services to the military personnel passing through town. And every November, she can be spotted on the local street corner peddling newspapers for Old Newsboys Day.
Honored with the Love of Children Award presented by the University City Children’s Center (UCCC), Nall couldn't be more thrilled that the model early childhood center developed at UCCC will now be implemented in North St. Louis at the Flance Early Childhood Center. “This innovative center will serve mixed-income families, which is a rarity in this country,” she says.
Now retired as a professor from SIUE, Nall says she doesn’t particularly like the ‘R word.’ “I refer to my life now as my personal renaissance.” In addition to spending time with family and friends, volunteering and consulting, she also believes in learning new things every day. Nall attends the Police Academy in Clayton and takes classes in understanding the U.S. economy at Lifelong Learning Center. She also commits to an hour of physical exercise every day. “Maintaining our balance is very important as we grow older,” she says, explaining why exercise is important.
And Nall certainly is a role model for balance in all that she does. Between her furthering education studies, her daily exercise regime and the precious time she carves out for loved ones, Nall still contributes her energy to improving early childhood education and to making her own needs secondary to others.