West Side teacher earns Kohl Early Childhood award

Head Start's Wanda Johnson got her start as a parent volunteer. Then it became a career path.

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By ROBERT FELTON

Twenty of metropolitan Chicago's finest teachers working with children, age 8 and under, have been selected as finalists for the 10th annual Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards. Among those nominated is Wanda Johnson, currently a teacher at Marcy Center Headstart Program (1539 S. Springfield) on Chicago's West Side.

Wanda began her career in early childhood education in 1978, when her own daughter was three years old, as a volunteer parent at Beacon House, located within the Rockwell Garden Projects. Beacon House closed its doors in 1986. Afterward, Johnson worked as a teacher at the Marcy Newberry Association (1073 W. Maxwell Ave.) as a teacher's aide. In 1989, Johnson became certified in Early Childhood Education and received her B.A. degree from Roosevelt University.

Despite the level of praise she has received for her teaching, Johnson is understated about being considered one of the top 20 early childhood educators in the Chicago area. She modestly asserts that she would be very appreciative of an award for her work but she is most happy about having the opportunity to do the type of work she truly enjoys.

"I love my job so much," said Johnson. "Working with parents to assure that children reach their full potential, listening to children give their opinions of how the class should be conducted and seeing their faces when they look forward to starting class is highly rewarding."

Johnson was nominated for the Kohl award by Janice Mathews of the Partnership for Quality Childcare, which is affiliated with National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) an organization that grants accreditation to high quality early childcare institutions. Mathews travels to many schools in Illinois and gives her recommendation on whether a school should be awarded accreditation, as well as which teachers should be acknowledged for their individual in-class excellence.

"I nominated her because of her wonderful way of speaking with the children, her work with faculty and parents, and the way she allows the children to dictate the flow of class. She is not just giving orders and telling them to follow. She wants them to be involved with how they absorb information," said Mathews.

"She does home visits, conferencing with parents about ways that the children could learn more effectively in class; she really goes the extra mile," said Mathews. "She has 17 students in the morning and 17 in the afternoon [broken up into four 8- to 9-student classes a day] yet she always treats every child like they were special and unique."

"Her dedication to maintaining a strong relationship with all of the parents builds a strong partnership between teacher and parent which allows parents to translate their favorable opinion of school to their children," said Mathews.

Representatives of Kohl McCormick determine which five teachers will receive the final awards by conducting interviews with the nominated teacher (the last of which will be on April 9) parents of her students, the director of the institution, and members of the administration and faculty.

All 20 finalists are full-time teachers from a three-county area (Cook, Lake, and Dupage). Each of the five winners will receive:

? a $5,000 cash award,

? a $1,000 cash award to the school of each winner,

? a graduate level course at Chicago's renowned Erikson Institute,

? a field trip and workshop at the Kohl Childrens Museum of Greater Chicago.

The Kohl McCormick awards, which is the first awards program to formally recognize the contributions of teachers working with children from infancy to third grade, will honor the winners at a luncheon ceremony at the Westin River North, 320 N. Dearborn in Chicago on June 14.

"This awards program exists to remind everyone--parents, teachers, and other professionals--of the critical importance of quality early childhood education," said Gail Sikevitz, executive director of the Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards. "These finalists embody the finest characteristics of quality teaching--respect for children and their families, excellent teaching practices and leadership within the field. We hope that the awards program validates their efforts and the work of all outstanding educators."

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