Inspired by her teachers, who recognized her immense academic ability, Mary Ann Pacella-Sams knew that she also wanted to be an educator. She was raised in a primarily immigrant neighborhood and was the first person in her family to receive a college education, as well as the second woman in her community to do so. Ms. Pacella-Sams earned a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Mundelein College in Chicago in 1958 and became a special services teacher for Chicago Public Schools immediately upon graduating. She taught English education, reading and English as a second language. Furthermore, she served as an education and early childhood specialist at various locations, and earned a Master of Education from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, in 1970 and a Montessori certification, which allowed her to establish many early childhood schools and assist in opening numerous Montessori schools across the Midwest.
Though she officially retired in 2003, Ms. Pacella-Sams has lent her services as a mentor and director of early childhood education for the State of California. Since 2005, she has remained active as a San Francisco and Bay Area tour guide, and a lecturer in consulting and early childhood education. Widely recognized for her success, Ms. Pacella-Sams has achieved awards such as the Appreciation Award from the Oakland Department Children’s Centers and an award from the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, both in 1980.
Ms. Pacella-Sams holds membership with organizations such as the Association of California School Administrators, the Association Montessori Internationale, the National Black Child Developmental Institute and the American Montessori Society, among others. In 2014, she was elected to the board of trustees of the San Francisco Tour Guide Guild and continues to pursue historical research as a hobby that helps her in her tour guiding. As a further testament to her success, Ms. Pacella-Sams has been featured in the 20th edition of Who’s Who in the West, and was awarded the State Keeper of the Dream Award by California State Sen. Petris and the California Early Childhood Administrators Association in 1983. She was also selected through competitive application to be one of 14 U.S. delegates to the first U.S.-China International Early Childhood Educational Exchange in 1985, through which she traveled and presented in 13 major Chinese cities and city councils/universities.
Ms. Pacella-Sams attributes her success to her mother. Her mother was a neighborhood practical nurse during World War II, and she also raised five kids on her own. By age 8, her father was no longer with the family, so her mother did an incredible job. Ms. Pacella-Sams would like to be remembered by her peers as someone who was very active in interracial movements, as an activist and as a leader. Of the three careers she has had – that is being a tour guide, teaching education and mentoring – her favorite position was naturally education. Her students still keep in touch with her to this day.