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                            Fred Piegonski, Executive Assistant to the President  
               Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029 
                           (323) 953-4000  ext. 2243      piegonfg@lacitycollege.edu                            

                      For Immediate Release:  November 15, 2006

Veteran Speech Professor Jane Baxter Spilios Recalls Her Early Days at LACC

Photo: Jane Baxter Spilios at the blackboard

Photo:  Jane Baxter Spilios with her husband Dennis in 1957

Jane Baxter Spilios at the blackboard today.  And as LACC Coordinator of Student Activities, with her husband Dennis, on Sept. 5, 1957 at a formal student dance event held at the local Riviera Country Club. The couple have been married 50 years.  (current photo by Chuck Ake)

A Pioneer in Teaching Conversational English to Foreign-Born Students

Veteran LA City College speech professor Jane Baxter Spilios has the distinction of being the first college instructor in the U.S. to teach a class in speech for foreign students.   

It was 1949 and Edmund Doran, head of the speech department, asked her to develop and teach a new class specifically to help the college’s visiting foreign students, who were failing because they hadn’t mastered the pronunciation of American English.  She did some research and found that there were no texts on the subject nor any curricula to speak of. 

Undaunted, she went ahead and began teaching the first class, which had five students.  One of the first things she had her class do was introduce themselves. When it came time to say thank you, she noticed that each student pronounced the “th” of  “thank” differently.  Some said “s,” others said “z,” and still others said “d.”  

“Well I knew what the first lesson would cover,” she said.  

Over the years she developed many techniques to help people with their pronunciation and she went on to write a textbook on the subject in the 50s, “Improve Your Spoken English.”    “It is still in print,” she said.  Having retired from LACC in the 1980s, Mrs. Spilios still teaches Speech 101 at the college two days a week.

Born and raised in Kansas, she grew up in the college town of Pittsburg.  In her high school days she excelled in athletics and was the winner in the Tri-State play day competition, receiving a scholarship to attend Pittsburg State University.  There she got a B.A. in liberal arts with a major in English and Speech.   She came to California to attend USC and got her master’s in speech there attending two summers on scholarship.

She began teaching at LACC in 1946, at first in the English Dept.  She also taught physical education classes, but for most of her teaching career she taught speech.   She also had the distinction of being one of the first college teachers to introduce a class in story-telling which was later adapted for the child development program.  She also authored the text “Learn to Tell a Story.”

During the 50s she held the positions of counselor and coordinator of student activities at LACC. She developed an annual “scholarship day” which recognized student achievement in each department.  And often she and her students appeared on local TV to promote the activities at the college.

She fondly recalls her early days at LACC.  “I was president of the campus ‘Women’s Club,’ and we had a very active organization.  I used to speak at many local organizations to raise money for student scholarships.” she said.  “We also held introductory teas for new women faculty and staff.”

Another tradition she remembers was the weekly assembly programs held in the 1000-seat auditorium of the old Administration building.  The faculty, staff and students looked forward to the Thursday programs, she said, which featured faculty musicians one week, student theatricals the next, or a guest speaker from off-campus.  At one point, she was in charge of a faculty lecture series given on-campus and in faculty homes.  An accomplished singer, she sang at many college events including the retirement party for legendary president John Lombardi.

For many years she announced the names of students at graduation.  In 1972, Mrs. Spilios was named outstanding American educator by the Outstanding Educators of America, for her collective work as a teacher. 

Reflecting on her 61 years of service to the college, she said, “I have loved it here at City.”

 

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