Special Awards Feature: 1999 Early Childhood Professional Award Winners
- Grades: PreK–K
Dayspring Developmental Disabilities, Center Lafayette, CO
Julie Aragon and the nine others who nominated Pat Uhlir for this year's Scholastic Early Childhood Professional Awards describe her as "one of the most positive people we've ever met," "someone who built my parental confidence," and "a person who played an amazing role in my daughter's life."
Pat has taught developmentally delayed infants in the Dayspring Center in Lafayette, Colorado, for over 16 years. She conducts home visits and works individually with children who were born with developmental delays and their families. After being assigned to the family, she works with them weekly until the child reaches the age of three. "The research shows that we give families hope," says Pat. "After the family has last a dream - a dream of a typical child - our services come in and show them that there is a lot that is typical about their child. There is hope that they are going to see development and change."
Pat says that teachers going into this field must be resilient because the work can be emotionally and physically difficult. Luckily her husband, Rick Uhlir, and six children-Jesse, Nathan, Jamie, Willow, Shiloh, and Patrick - are all very supportive. "Besides, it's an amazing job because you learn a tremendous amount from each family. You develop incredible relationships and miss people when they leave your program because you know them so well. You've been through sorrow with them and you've enjoyed their happiness as their child reaches developmental milestones. I love my job. I feel very lucky."
Kim Lee Jacobson
Nonotuck Community Child Care, Northampton, MA
When two-year-old Aidan Dwight joined Kim Lee's class, he was the only developmentally delayed toddler in the group. Aidan, who has Down's syndrome, has delays in "just about every area-speech, gross-motor, fine-motor, cognition," says nominating parent Valle Dwight. "My husband and I were very anxious, but Kim Lee consistently showed great wisdom and good sense. We have watched Aidan blossom into a full member of the classroom."
Kim Lee believes that Nonotuck, a 22-parent cooperative located in a church basement, is special for its sense of community. Parents take on a range of responsibilities, from volunteering to do the laundry to serving on the board of directors. "The doors are always open. Many parents who work right in town come up and join us for lunch."
Kim says that teaching at Nonotuck is fulfilling for other reasons too. For instance, working with a child with Down's syndrome in a classroom has helped her put into practice her theories about what an integrated classroom could and should be. "Seeing this classroom work has been one of the most rewarding moments of my career."
Kim advises new professionals in early care and education to "keep your sense of humor. You always have to remember that the work is joyful." She also recommends that you not be a teacher, but a cooperative learner with the children in your group. "Walk in the classroom as the children's peer and create something together."
Mary Johnson & Karen Linford
Indian Hills Preschool, Gallup, NM
Mary Johnson and Karen Linford team-teach at Indian Hills Preschool in Gallup, New Mexico - a program serving 40 developmentally delayed and at -risk Navajo, Zuni, Anglo, and Hispanic children in a district where the average developmental age of entry-level kindergarten children is 2.8 years. Five years ago, Mary, who has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language, began writing the language acquisition-based curriculum. She was soon joined by Karen, who holds a master's degree in special education. Today they see remarkable progress. For example, currently enrolled four-year-olds show an 18-month gain in receptive language, and the improvements continue to show strongly through the second grade.
Karen and Mary believe the success of their program has been a team effort. Their principal, Martyn Stowe, is a staunch supporter within the district. They also credit their families. Assistants Ethel Ellison and Rita Grey have helped to make the program special. Both Navajo, they speak the language and assist in the blending of the culture from the community into the classroom.
Karen and Mary see the children in their program change. "By the time they go to kindergarten, they feel more confident. Their language has increased substantially. Some are Hispanic and speak Spanish. But all of them have at least a little bit of English. In the Navajo culture, family communication is rich with gesture. Children who come here don't know labels such as doorknob or cup. We have to teach them a lot of language."
Melinda Marble, the nominating parent, sums it up: "I know Allison is getting a positive start to her education. They have taught my daughter admiration and respect for other cultures. They have taught her a love of learning that she will have for the rest of her life."
Clear Creek Elementary, Bloomington, IN
"It is my belief," writes nominating parent Janet Oakley, "and that of past and present parents, that Becky Dixon has had a profound influence on our children's development. She respects each child as an individual and pays attention to his or her stage of learning and development."
Becky Dixon is the kindergarten teacher for 33 children from diverse family structures and cultures and who have different learning capabilities. "Every year we work very hard on building community with common themes that bring us together and celebrate our uniqueness and our diversity," says Becky.
Becky is extremely involved with community events and initiatives. She is a member of NAEYC, IRA, and NEA, teaches professional workshops, and supervises and mentors new teachers. She feels rewarded whenever she watches children make a new discovery or accomplish some kind of personal goal. "It is wonderful seeing a child whom you know has struggled with something all of a sudden be able to do it."
Becky is also gratified when she receives letters from former parents with pictures and updates or a letter from a former student. She also loves working with colleagues who share her passion for teaching and mentoring college students. "I tell students to be lifelong learners and to be flexible and open to new ideas as long as they are sound and to be willing to grow as professionals. I also tell them that your teaching style will change; you won't always be the same teacher as you are now, but if you stick with your basic principles and what you value about how children develop and learn, you are going tc be OK." She also advises new teachers to get involved as professionals in the community and in professional organiztions and to be an advocate for children and families in their communities, because teaching means going beyond the classroom.
FAMILY CHILD CARE PROVIDER
Love-A-Child, Colorado Springs, CO
"Maybe it's the huge smile on my one-yearold daughter's face. It could be the 'Mom, I love Janet!' I hear as my four-year-old rushes to the door. But there is no question in my mind that Janet Thompson is an extraordinary family child care provider," says nominating parent Elizabeth Kirkman-Werner.
After researching child care for her own son for over a year, Janet Thompson opened her own family child care home in 1994. She is a member of the Colorado and Pikes Peak Family Child Care Association.
To those who might think about starting their own family child care program, she advises: "Do research. Go check into other programs to see what they do. I highly stress having structured preschool activities. So many providers are burnt out because they don't have structure. They say the children are out of control. It's worth the time it takes at nap or in the evening to sit down to figure out a theme or variety of different things you're going to add to it. I also personally believe you need the support of family and the children's parents. My husband Dean, my mother Sylvia, and my sons Andrew and Matthew are all involved."
Janet recommends using resources such as the Internet and professional magazines to assist in planning. "I use a lot of the science articles from Early Childhood Today. Personally, I lack a science background, so that's why I really like using these additional resources for good activities. I use the Internet and the library to find different activities for children as they get older."
For Janet, the most rewarding moments happen when a child walks out the door saying something positive about himself. "I believe in positive reinforcement. I feel I can give children positive feelings about themselves. We are never too old for positive things. I tell the children they are all unique and special in different ways."
Head Start, Springerville Springerville, AZ
Margie Tapia has been at Head Start for 19 years, 10 of them as a director, and parents feel that many children and teachers have benefited from her positive attitude, support, and guidance. "She is respected and looked up to by parents, families, staff, the community, and her superiors. She is the foundation that every center should have," says nominating parent Debra Wade.
Springerville Head Start (operated under the umbrella of Northern Arizona Council of Government) serves 76 families with 82 children and many more individual family and community members. "We've established partners throughout the community, so we are well known with different agencies. But our main partners are our parents," Margie says.
Margie feels that her job brings many rewards. "The way the children, the staff, and the community accept me - I feel a part of something. I feel they are my life. I give to them and they give to me." She is also gratified when parents whose children are already out of Head Start come back to ask her advice or call just to chit chat. "Just to know that I am still a part of their life is really rewarding."
For young professionals in early care and education, Margie offers this advice: Be team oriented. "My philosophy is to try not to implement what I did not like about my previous supervisors. So, as I climbed the ladder, I kept all these things in my mind. I tried to think: If I ever get to be a director, I'm not going to do this or that." Communication, she adds, is also important for a director. "You should know your staff. Knowing their goals and helping them reach those goals, being open minded, and being flexible are all important because we are all so different."
This article originally appeared in the November, 1999 issue of Early Childhood Today.