VERNON >> Vernon Preschool, which serves 20 three, four and five year olds (with a waiting list), wouldn't exist were it not for one woman: Linda Shippee.
Shippee is this year's recipient of the Early Educator of the Year Award, given out by Windham Child Care Association.
Shippee knew she always wanted to work with children. With an interest in teaching children with special needs, her path began in high school as a volunteer at the Winston Prouty Center. When her third child was in kindergarten 20 years ago, she attended a playgroup in Vernon's town offices. There was enough interest and need in the community that the group formalized and became licensed to care for 12 children, part-time. Before long, under Shippee's leadership, the program expanded its hours to full-time and its capacity to 14 children.
Over the years, the program has grown so successful that last year, it was time for another expansion. Shippee worked with town officials at Vernon's recreation department, the umbrella organization of the preschool, and local school administrators to move the preschool into an open classroom at the elementary school.
Though the preschool isn't officially part of the school, there are many benefits to sharing the space. The preschoolers enjoy visits by 3rd and 4th grade reading pals. They are able to take advantage of the spaces like the gymnasium and beautiful playground. Since 85 percent of the students are also Vernon residents, the children have a direct connection to what will be their kindergarten teacher and future educational setting. This arrangement has benefited everyone involved.
Shippee, has her Child Development Associate credential and is currently enrolled in a program to earn her associate's degree. She is always looking for ways to enrich her programming to better serve the children. She recently began implementing a hands-on literacy program, Reading Street, which is used in nearby schools and bridges the gap to educational practices that children will be exposed to when they leave her program.
For young children, the home-school connection is essential to their success. Shippee understands this and shapes her program to make this possible.
"We have an open-door policy," she said. "We invite parents and grandparents to spend time here and host many family-fun events throughout the year."
Weekly notes are sent home to families and two formal conferences are held each year.
"Parents don't just drop off or pick up their children," wrote one parent who nominated Shippee for the award. "Linda comes over to each one, asks about how the morning went, how they slept the night before, etc. She really wants to know as much as possible about each student and uses this information to drive her instruction, and her interaction with each student each day."
There's no shortage of support for Shippee receiving this award. Within a few short hours of sharing the news on social media, there were over a 140 comments, "likes" and congratulations for her. "I strongly believe the reason why Vernon Preschool has such an amazing reputation is because of that fact that Linda cares so deeply about each and every student," said a parent of a child currently in the program. "She makes each student feel like a shining star. She is warm and welcoming and has a calmness when working with children. The way she talks to each student, the language she uses, the tone she uses, all are very calming and loving and motivating. She believes in each student and always speaks to their strengths."
When a child came through her program struggling with self-control — biting, unable to sit still, throwing items — Shippee didn't bat an eye. With compassion, patience and her innate ability to connect with children, together they made great strides in the child's development.
"My approach is to get down at their level, to really listen to them and validate what they're feeling," Shippee said. Their connection remains strong to this day. Now, as the student makes his way to his elementary grade classroom in the morning, Shippee is rewarded with frequent visits from him. Seeing his progress fills her with pride.
From the children moving up through the older grades in elementary school, to the children she cared for 20 years ago who are now headed off to college, Linda Shippee has made a lasting impact on hundreds of children's lives.
Shippee will be recognized at the River Valley Kids Fair today at noon.
The Early Educator of the Year is a recognition of an outstanding early childhood educator working in a registered or licensed early care and education program in Vermont. Windham Child Care Association is Southeastern Vermont's Community Child Care Support Agency. They help families locate and pay for the child care arrangement that meets their individual needs. Early care and education providers rely on them for a range of services including professional training, career counseling, and business supports that allow them to achieve and maintain the highest levels of quality. Learn more at www.windhamchildcare.org.
Sarah DiNicola is the Director of Communications & Operations for Windham Child Care Association. She can be contacted at 802-254-5332.