Jill Stalker loved to “play school” in the basement when her mom, an educator, brought home extra supplies and books.

In fact, it fostered her lifelong dream to become a teacher. The dream continued during college breaks when she worked at Apple Tree Connections, a child care center in Appleton.

The center is now where she works full-time as a lead teacher with 1-year-olds.

“I decided that child care was more of a calling for me,” Jill said. “I prefer giving more daily care than standing in front of a class teaching subjects. Since then, I have found my niche in the toddler room.”

Jill’s calling in early childhood education has now earned her a national award. She is one of the 2022 recipients of the Terri Lynne Lokoff Award, an annual honor given to approximately 50 early childhood educators across the nation in recognition of outstanding achievement. The awards also aim to bring attention to the critical role child care professionals play in the lives of young children. Recipients receive a monetary prize, virtual award experience during a weekend-long celebration and ongoing opportunities to connect with their peers.

“Since child care staff are often underpaid and underappreciated, it helps financially and most of all lifts my pride in my profession,” said Jill, who has worked in child care for nine years, seven of which have been full-time. “With winning this award, my goal is to be an advocate for child care teachers by spreading the word that quality child care plays a key role in the development of children.”

Jill is also a participant in Wisconsin Early Childhood Association’s REWARD Wisconsin Stipend Program, which she says is a welcome support and blessing because of the low pay early childhood educators receive. She hopes to foster an understanding in the public about the importance of child care as early education and its impact on young children’s development, especially given the demands of the profession.

“As a teacher in the toddler room, I do not sit on the floor all day and play. Yes, it is an important aspect of my day, but I also complete weekly lesson plans, child portfolios, bi-annual conferences, continuing education, monthly meetings and lots of other behind-the scenes work,” she said. “I spend my own time and money on resources to keep children engaged and interested in coming to our room.”

For more information on the Terri Lynne Lokoff Awards, including eligibility requirements, visit First Up’s website.

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