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Press Release: September, 2011
Habitot Children's Museum
Media Contact: Lauren Levin (510) 647-1111 x31
Public Information: (510) 647-1111
Images: available

“Preschool Teachers Make a Difference” Award 2011

(Berkeley, CA) September 29, 2011

A capacity crowd of over 120 parents, enthusiastic friends, and family members made the Awards Ceremony for Habitot Children’s Museum’s 3rd Annual "Preschool Teachers Make a Difference" contest a heartwarming affair.

At the September 26th event, ten exemplary early childhood educators were recognized as this year’s winners. The teachers were selected by an independent panel of judges from a pool of over 110 nominations submitted by professional colleagues or by parents of children enrolled in their schools. Four Bay Area counties were represented among the winners, as were private, public, parochial, special needs and Head Start preschools.

Neethu Shekhar, a classroom parent, teared up as she spoke to Karen Swezey, the teacher she nominated from Head Start / Hacienda in Fremont. “You do work helping children with special needs that goes beyond support – you are an angel. You see my child for his strengths and help him with his weaknesses, and give me skills with him that I could not learn myself at home.”

Awards judge Nancy Skinner (State Assembly member, 14th District) honored the teachers for their contributions to early childhood education, and spoke about state efforts to support education and the crucial role played by community resources like Habitot. Her office provided individual certificates of recognition to each winner.

Judge Julie Nicholson, Ph.D. (Director of the Leadership Program in Early Childhood at Mills College) spoke about the pleasure of reading the nomination essays – her whole family got involved – and the challenge of choosing just ten winners from a superlative field of nominees.

Teachers received a generous assortment of prizes – a $100 gift certificate from Lead Sponsor Childcraft/School Specialty; an adorable animal puppet from Folkmanis Puppets; and a classroom field trip and family membership to Habitot Children’s Museum.

At a time when teachers receive little respect or recognition for their work, Habitot created the “Preschool Teachers Make a Difference” Awards to remind people about the critical role of early childhood educators, launching three- and four-year-olds on the road to a lifetime of learning.

“My hope is to elevate the profession and appreciate these unsung heroes whose impact on young children is immense,” said Gina Moreland, Habitot’s executive director and creator of the contest. “One teacher told me that she had been teaching for 17 years and winning this award was the first time she had felt recognized.” The contest has grown each year since 2008 and tripled in size in 2011, thanks to strong word of mouth and to the generous participation of Media Sponsors Childhood Matters, Parents’ Press, and the Savvy Source for Parents.

“If the contest gets any bigger next year, we’ll have to rent a hall!” laughed Gina, as happy guests packed Habitot’s 4,000 sf space. She and the judges agreed that there are innumerable great preschool teachers out there to recognize. Habitot looks forward to opening nominations for the 4th “Preschool Teachers Make a Difference” Awards in the spring of 2012.

  • 2011 "Preschool Teachers Make a Difference" Award Winners:
  • ybille Cohen - Bay Area Kinderstube, Albany
  • Valentina Feldman - Holy Family Day Home, San Francisco
  • Laura Firpo - Childhaven Preschool, Brentwood
  • Elizabeth Jones - The Kids Place of Novato, Novato
  • Jia Jun Men - St. Thomas Apostle Preschool and Pre-K Learning Center, San Francisco
  • Judy Kahn - Beatie Street Preschool and Kindergarten, Oakland
  • Nur Katz - JCC East Bay, Berkeley
  • Jim McCaffrey - Rainbow School, Oakland
  • Dyanna Nervis -Claremont Day Nursery School, Oakland
  • Karen Swezey - Headstart Program/Hacienda, Fremont

2011 Judges: Julie Nicholson, Ph.D., Director of the Leadership Program in Early Childhood at Mills College and head of the Bay Area Play Coalition, Angie Garling, Coordinator of the Alameda County Childcare Planning Council, Maha Ibrahim, Senior Field Representative for Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s office, and Kelli Tharpe, one of 2010’s winning teachers, and Director at Little Sweet Peas Preschool in San Pablo.

2011 Sponsors: Childcraft/School Specialty; Folkmanis Puppets; Childhood Matters/Interactive Parenting Media; Parents’ Press, and the Savvy Source, an online resource for preschools nationwide.

(left to right): Teachers Dyanna Nervis, Karen Swezey, and Jia Jun Men w/nominators. Credit: Gina Moreland

About Habitot

Since opening in 1998, Habitot Children’s Museum has been recognized as the “best museum for families” by Bay Area Parent Magazine readers and as a “five star destination” by the Lila Guide. In 2011 and in 2010, Habitot was designated a “Top Education Non-profit” by GreatNonprofits, a leading provider of reviews and ratings of nonprofit organizations. Also in 2011, Habitot was chosen as “Best Indoor Playspace” by the readers of Parents’ Press, and nominated for Red Tricycle’s “Totally Awesome Awards” in three categories, including best museum. Habitot has also been named “Best of the Gay Bay” (2009), Best Museum for Little Kids in the San Francisco Bay Area (Parent’s Pick Winner at Nickelodeon’s 2008) and has received numerous other awards and accolades for its unique programming.

Habitot’s founder and director, Gina Moreland, was honored for her years of public service with a Bay Area “Jefferson Award” (2006) as well as with a proclamation from the City of Berkeley as “Early Childhood Champion of the Year” (2006). In addition to exhibits and programs that serve 65,000 visitors per year, Habitot reaches out to and includes vulnerable children and families in all its programs. Over 1,500 at-risk teen parents, homeless families, special needs children and other low-income families benefited from free and tailored programs over the past two years.

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111