Monday, March 24, 2014

Windham childcare teacher honored with national award - By Elizabeth Richards

Birchwood Day Nursery School teacher Heather Marden has been selected by the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF) to receive the 2014 Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children’s TYLENOL® National Child Care Teacher Award. Marden is one of 54 recipients selected for the award from a nationwide pool of applicants. Marden will receive a grant of $1,000 to fund a project she created for her classroom, called “Light up Learning.”

“Light Up Learning” includes the purchase of a light table and hands-on materials to use with the table. Marden said that she didn’t want a one-time project, or something that would only be used for a little while and put aside. “I want something that’s going to be a permanent fixture in the classroom, that I can take any curriculum we’re doing or anything the kids are interested in doing and put this in,” she said. Having attempted numerous times to create her own light box with minimal success, Marden feels that the commercial unit will be an investment for the classroom. The box will allow her to incorporate many different materials, from letter tiles and x-ray cards to translucent building bricks, and involve all learning areas, including math, science, literacy, art and dramatic play. The versatility of the light box will also be a big advantage, as it can be used for large groups, small groups and individually. “That’s kind of how I made my choice, looking at the many benefits this would have,” said Marden.

Marden and Birchwood director/owner Connie DiBiase will fly to Philadelphia for events honoring the recipients on April 2nd. At a luncheon that day, the top ten will speak about their projects. The following evening, the awards and grant money will be presented at a banquet. 

Marden applied for the recognition and grant after DiBiase put the paperwork and a note encouraging her to apply in her mailbox. At first glance, Marden said, she was intimidated by the idea of applying for a national award but ultimately decided to go for it. She collected the necessary recommendations from a parent, a colleague, and DiBiase, filled out the application, and put together the project proposal. Marden submitted her application in late fall of 2013, and was notified by letter in early February that she had been selected.
Marden began her career in education after college, working as a educational technician in special education for three years, then becoming a certified Wilson reading specialist, working one-on-one with children in Kindergarten through 12th grade. The field was a little too structured and routine for her, she said, and didn’t allow room for her creative side. Seeking an outlet in education that would incorporate this aspect of her personality prompted a move to the early childhood field. When she was offered a preschool position after moving to Portsmouth, NH, she jumped right in. “It was an age I hadn’t done yet, and I thought it would be interesting to learn more about that age,” she said. “Immediately, I just knew, this is me.”  She enjoys the preschool age group, she said, because there is room for creativity, and teaching this age allows her to play a large role in the children’s first introduction to learning.

“I just love that they ask so many questions, and that I can ask just as many back. That’s the fun part for me,” she said of working with preschoolers. “They’re asking questions because they want to learn. When you get to that point in teaching when they’re not asking questions any more, something is wrong.”  

DiBiase said that she encouraged Marden to apply because of the creativity she has seen her use in the classroom, from finding ways to engage a child with trouble entering into play by using his interests to her detailed artist studies. 

Marden has worked at Birchwood for four years. She has two classes of nine children, a Monday/Wednesday/Friday group and one on Tuesday/Thursday. The children in her classes attend for 3 ½ hours a day, from 8:30 am to12 pm. Marden said the things she enjoys most about her job are the creativity and flexibility. “I love how I can have a lesson plan written up for a day and come in and never touch it because of what the children are doing. It’s what keeps the day interesting. No two days are alike,” she said.
Winning the award was a very humbling experience for her, Marden said. She had convinced herself that she didn’t have a chance in a nationwide competition, thinking that awards like this were only for teachers who were on committees, or working with the state chapter of NAEYC. “I haven’t really gotten to that point in my career yet. All my efforts are focused here in these four walls. So when I opened it up and saw that I got it, it was very humbling to know that the efforts you put into a classroom can be rewarded like that,” said Marden. She said she always feels personal satisfaction in her job, but to have someone outside recognize her efforts validated what she does even more.

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