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In September, 1857, when Illinois State Normal University (now called Illinois State University) opened it doors for the purpose of preparing teachers for the State of Illinois, the "model" school did likewise. Its original enrollment consisted of seven students in a single class group.

The second term "there was a room full with would-be students turned away." The school was referred to as the "model" school, since its chief function was to provide a living laboratory to aid in the education of future teachers. Later it was called the "training school"; it carried this name until 1914. At this time, a new building was dedicated and named "The Thomas Metcalf Elementary School" in honor of Professor Thomas Metcalf, the school’s first supervisor.

In 1901, President David Felmley reorganized the school, appointing a director to supervise all eight grades and a supervising or a "critic" teacher for each grade. The kindergarten was added in 1902. From the beginning, Metcalf School was used to provide teachers in training with demonstrations. "Demonstrations teaching" or "Critiques" consisted of a class being taught, usually by a critic, for the benefit of the entire body of elementary student teachers; a discussion of the lesson by the director of the training school followed.

During the years, a constant enrichment of the curriculum was being sought. Children’s needs and interests were studied; thus, music, art, literature, better English, social science, science, home economics, industrial arts, health, and physical education became an integral part of the curriculum.

In 1903, a Mother’s Club was organized. In 1909, the Club developed into the Parent-Teachers Association. This organization has been of much value to the life of the school by bringing about a close relationship between school and home.

In September, 1947, the elementary and high school divisions of the Laboratory School were separated. The old Metcalf building was renovated and occupied by University High School. The elementary school was moved into a large, new modern building which faces University Street. This building was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies and renamed the Thomas Metcalf School. It has facilities for accommodating four groups of kindergarten students and two rooms of students in all grades from first through eighth. Rooms are also provided for classes in art, music, home economics, science, and industrial arts. A well-stocked library, large and small gymnasiums, swimming pool, and a large, well equipped playground provides the physical education teachers with ample facilities for carrying on an outstanding program in this field.