BRATTLEBORO -- Lizzy Sheehan says education is about three things: Building relationship with the children, creating a safe environment for them to explore and earning a sense of trust and mutual respect.
Sheehan's mantra is the embodiment of Whitney Houston's lyrics, "... the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way."
For the past three decades she's done just that. Beginning her 31st year in teaching, her fifth in Brattleboro at Early Education Services Canal Street Head Start program, Sheehan was named this year's Early Childhood Educator of the Year. She was recognized on Saturday at the River Valley Kids Fair, and said she was very honored and grateful to receive the award.
"The kids keep me coming back," she said. "They're counting on us to guide them through the complexities of this world. To give them a sense of strength and well-being. To help them figure out what they want to do and what they can do to contribute to this world. To figure out where they fit in society."
Instead of focusing on just the technical skills of teaching, Sheehan said kids need to feel safe to be themselves, something only accomplished by creating a relationship with them.
She said as long as she can remember she's enjoyed being around children and after her own trials and tribulations in schools, Sheehan became aware and sensitive to the struggles many children were having in the classroom.
"One of her favorite things about working with the children in her care is helping them develop an ‘I can do this' attitude," said Sarah DiNicola, communications and events coordinator for the Windham Child Care Association.
Her peers described her as "the teacher I hope to someday be," said Elly Majonen of Health Care and Rehabilitation Services. "She is honest and open. She cares about the families she comes in contact with and inspires children to be respectful and independent thinkers."
When it came time to decide who should get the award for Early Childhood Educator of the year, Windham Child Care Association Executive Director Elizabeth Raposa said the competition was tough with 10 other nominees.
"All of these individuals are doing incredibly important work in our community. The decision wasn't easy because they are all deserving of recognition," she said.
What set Sheehan apart, Raposa said, was her ability to point out what each child needed and to help them achieve it.
Other nominees included; April Barcomb, Sue Clarke, Robin Davis, Susan Heimer, Kim Jacques, Lisa McDougal, Molly Oglesby, Jen Rice, Judy Rosner and Rosie Smith.
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.