Clare Jean Siegel, early childhood educator, dies

Clare Jean Siegel, an early childhood educator and advocate who worked in the Baltimore's Head Start program for 32 years, died of cancer Dec. 14 at her Dickeyville home. She was 61.

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., she was the daughter of Edward Siegel, a psychologist, and his wife, Ruth Kovner, who raised the family after her husband's death.


Ms. Siegel was raised in Oxon Hill and was a 1973 graduate of Potomac Senior High School. Family members said that in high school, a teacher recognized her talent in working with children.

She met her future husband nearly 40 years ago at a Halloween party he was hosting with his then-roommates on Abell Avenue.


"We wound up talking all night," said Dr. Phillip Farfel, a former president of the Baltimore City School Board.

Early in her career she was a teacher's assistant at the Hope Center in Prince George's County. She worked with severely disabled children during a time when public schools were just beginning to be involved with education of special-needs children.

"At that time, public schools did not necessarily serve children with special needs," said her husband. "She had a gift with children. She was also comfortable dealing with parents and with teachers."

During the early 1970s, Ms. Siegel accompanied Hope Center children to a visit to the Nixon White House.

She decided to further her education and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in special education from Coppin State University and a master's degree from Wheelock College.

"She was a pioneer in the emerging field of infant and toddler education," said her husband, who is a grants coordinator for MedStar Health. "This field recognized the importance of early brain development to future school readiness and success."

She joined Baltimore City Head Start in the 1980s and established a pioneering Head Start initiative that openly integrated HIV-positive children.

"At a time of widespread ignorance and fear directed at HIV-infected adults and children, she paired services tailored to the needs of infected children and families with education and awareness efforts to remove the stigma associated with an HIV diagnosis," her husband said.


In 1992, her program was honored on National AIDS Awareness Day by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An article in The Baltimore Sun at that time said: "Like most of the award-winning programs, Ms. Siegel's is small. The staff of seven serves about 50 HIV-infected children and their families each year. The program is operated with $157,000 in federal Head Start funds and $60,000 from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Though Head Start programs throughout the country teach HIV-infected children alongside kids who are not infected, Ms. Siegel believes her program is the only one that does it with pleasure."

"There are certainly kids being integrated everywhere that nobody knows about, but we openly serve [HIV-infected] children," she said in The Sun's article. "That's what we're all about, helping families."

The article noted that her program also worked to give support for parents with HIV. She and her staff showed how to manage finances and coordinate health care, and prodded affected family members to write wills.

"A big piece of what we do is educate and try to demystify the whole thing about kids and HIV,'" she said in the story. "We've lost children in our program. We have mothers that are sick right now that probably aren't going to live through the year."

A year later, in 1993, Ms. Siegel received a citation for her work from the Health Care Financing Administration.


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Her husband said she was also an innovator in creating programs for infant and toddlers. She helped establish new Early Head Start sites for the Maryland Family Network in rural areas of the Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel County.

She also worked with Save the Children and Zero to Three programs to establish infant and toddler services for underserved children in rural areas.

She was the 2004 president of the Maryland Head Start Association. In that role, she signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Dr. Nancy Grasmick, then-superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education, "establishing areas of collaboration between public schools and Head Start to assure that Head Start children were prepared to enter kindergarten."

Ms. Siegel was an avid reader and belonged to a book club for 30 years. She also enjoyed cooking and taking walks with her dog. She was a volunteer with the Maryland Food Bank.

A memorial service will be held at noon Jan. 14 at the Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, 5112 Wetheredsville Road in Baltimore.

In addition to her husband of 32 years, survivors include two daughters, Shaina Farfel of Nashville, Tenn., and Ruth Farfel of Baltimore; a brother, Brian Siegel of Timonium; and two sisters, Chandra Evans of Louisville, Ky., and Stefanie Siegel of New York City.