2006 Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award Winners Selected
Foundation Invests in Quality Educators Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders
Dolores Kohl Education Foundation
847.433.8340 ext. 11
McCormick Tribune Foundation
CHICAGO, May 11, 2006
Five of metropolitan Chicago’s finest educators who work with children between birth and age eight have been selected
as recipients of the 2006 Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards. These educators exemplify the best practices
of quality early childhood teaching: dedication, innovation, leadership, respect for children and their families, and
commitment to professional growth. They work in preschools, home day care centers, childcare centers, Head Start
programs, State Prekindergartens, and kindergarten through third-grade classrooms in public, private and parochial
schools in Cook County.
The process began last fall when an esteemed committee of leaders in the field of early childhood education conducted
site visits and selected 22 outstanding teachers as finalists for this award.
Five of those outstanding educators have now been chosen to represent the best of the field, following a final
application process that included additional site visits and interviews by members of the Kohl McCormick Academy of
Outstanding Educators. These five representatives will be honored at the 2006 Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching
Awards luncheon ceremony on Tuesday, May 23, at the Westin River North in Chicago.
The Kohl McCormick Award winners for 2006 are:
(For additional information, please see attached listing and profiles.)
Martina Carter – Carole Robertson Center – (Early Head Start – Birth-3 program)
Martina Carter is a living example of what can occur when you provide infants with a quality education. She was raised
in a family of teachers, and as a result is a lifelong learner. While teaching full-time at the Carole Robertson
Center, she is also working toward her bachelor’s degree at National Louis University, with plans to pursue her
master’s at the Erikson Institute. "I never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or firefighter," she says. "I always wanted
to be a teacher." As a child, Carter would play "school" every day with her teddy bears. In the same way that Carter
prepared for adulthood by playing "school" with her bears, she prepares her students by facilitating developmental
play. "Their brains develop so fast," she says. "They’re little sponges, soaking up everything!"
Marla Garstka – Chicago Lighthouse – (Birth – 3)
"I can’t change what is, but we can maximize what they have." Those are words that Marla Garstka lives by every day in
her role as an early intervention specialist with The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind or Visually
Impaired. Garstka feels a key to helping these children succeed is to help parents "see the glass as half full."
She is able to focus on emerging skills and learning abilities rather than looking at disabilities. "I see parents
who are going through such grieving—parents who are grieving their hopes, grieving their dreams for their children,"
says Garstka. "It makes me so happy to see the growth in both the parents and the kids over just a few years. And it
feels good to see just how proud the parents are with their children’s progress."
Mary Hanson– Healy Elementary – (CPS – State Pre-K)
Pictures are a key form of communication for Mary Hanson. More than half of her class are English language learners
whose first language is either Chinese or Spanish. "I take digital photos of each child making happy, sad, and scared
expressions," she explains. When the students enter each morning, they post the expression that best represents how
they feel, changing the photos as their feelings change throughout the day. She also asks the children to form the
shapes of letters with their bodies. Hanson photographs the little alphabet children, and uses the photos to make
books; the books are sent home where they are used as a learning tool. Believing that parents and community are the
key to her students’ success, Hanson has arranged through the Chinese American Service League for "Chinese
grandmothers" to volunteer in her classroom, supporting the growth of the children.
Maeve Kanaley– Inter-American Magnet School – (CPS - First grade)
Maeve Kanaley’s dual-language classroom at Inter-American Magnet School is a
place of excitement and wonder for her first graders. Walk into the room, and you’re likely to hear her playing the
guitar and singing. "There are 100 sight words that Chicago Public Schools wants first graders to know by the end
of the year," she says. Kanaley uses songs, games and dramatization to teach those words, and to teach such skills
as handwriting, comprehension, fluency and socialization. "Music is a pathway to literacy," she explains. In using
music to teach literacy, Kanaley is utilizing Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. "My son Nicky was
absolutely enthralled with Ms. Kanaley’s instruction," says Scott Ahlman. "She is one of the finest teachers I’ve
ever known." That’s high praise: Ahlman is not just a parent; he’s a Chicago Public School principal.
Hertha Ramirez – Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center – (CPS - State Pre-K)
Growing up in war-torn El Salvador, Hertha Ramirez saw firsthand the effect of violence on children. Ramirez found
her way out of the violence of El Salvador to teach peace in Chicago schools. When she was a sophomore in high school,
the civil war in Ramirez’s homeland was the impetus for her to come to America. Speaking not a word of English,
Ramirez arrived in Chicago. A few years later, she graduated from Northern Illinois University and quickly got a job
as a pre-kindergarten teacher. She earned her master’s degree a few years later. Today, she teaches 3- to 5-year-olds
at the Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center on Chicago’s west side. "She stands out in her ability to make
children love school, love learning, and love their teacher," says Principal Maria Cabrera, "and her enthusiasm is
hard to match!"
Each of the five representatives will receive:
- A $5,000 cash award
- A $1,000 cash award for the winner’s school or center
- A classroom visit from the Kohl McCormick StoryBus, providing hands-on learning for early literacy
- A day of professional development at the Fall 2006 Kohl McCormick StoryBus Institute
- A classroom field trip at the Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago
- A day of professional development from the Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago
- A graduate-level course at Chicago’s renowned Erikson Institute
Each is also inducted into the Kohl McCormick Academy of Outstanding Educators.
While there are numerous teaching awards in the United States, the Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards
is the first awards program to formally recognize the contributions of teachers working with children from infancy
through third grade. In its eleventh year, the Kohl McCormick Awards program has become a model for recognition of
outstanding early childhood educators.
"The Kohl McCormick award winners play a critical role in developing our next generation by giving children the
desire, confidence and skills they need to be successful in school and life," observes David L. Grange, president
and CEO of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. "We salute these extraordinary educators for implementing creative
learning techniques that will motivate and inspire Chicagoland’s youngest children."
"We applaud the passion and dedication of five extraordinary master teachers who inspire our youngest children to
love learning. The Kohl McCormick Early Childhood award recipients are the crème de la crème of their profession and
we are pleased to honor them," adds Dolores Kohl, president and CEO of the Dolores Kohl Education Foundation.
The Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards program is sponsored by the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the
Dolores Kohl Education Foundation. Since 2000, the education program of the McCormick Tribune Foundation has
committed more than $40 million in resources and expertise to improve the quality of early childhood education in
the metropolitan Chicago area.
to learn more about the awards program.
Carole Robertson Center for Learning
3701 W. Ogden, Chicago
Early Head Start – (Birth – 3 program)
"I’m fascinated by how much children develop from birth to three years old," exclaims Martina Carter.
"Their brains develop so fast—they’re little sponges, soaking up everything." As a lead teacher at the Carole
Robertson Center for Learning in Chicago, Carter does all she can to help those children get a good start.
Carter is a living example of what can occur when you provide infants and toddlers with a quality early childhood
education—she was raised in a family of teachers, and as a result is a life-long learner. While teaching full-time
at Carole Robertson, she is also a full-time student, working toward her bachelor's degree at National Louis
University, with plans to attend the Erikson Institute upon graduation, where she will earn her master's. "I never
wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or firefighter," she says. "I always wanted to be a teacher." In fact, when she was in
kindergarten, Carter would play "school" with her teddy bears.
In the same way that Carter prepared for adulthood by playing "school" with her teddy bears as a child, she prepares
her students by facilitating developmental play. Carter's classroom is sectioned off into various play centers that
encourage the children to explore. There is an art center where they can finger paint, use crayons, markers, colored
papers and more. There is also a book center filled with a variety of colorful multi-cultural books, and a
housekeeping center with dress-up clothing, dishes, and dolls.
"Martina is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher and person who is seen as a leader among her peers," says Gail Nelson,
Executive Director of the Carole Robertson Center. "She is very adept at personalizing children's learning around
"I encourage the children to make decisions and express their feelings," relates Carter. She also feels it's
important to let each child know that they are important. "No matter what the activity is, she is talking with the
children, asking them questions about how things feel, smell, what they look like and what they think about things,"
says Phyllis Cohen, whose daughter is in Carter's class. "She is sensitive to each child's needs."
Carter believes that building strong relationships with parents is a key to her success. "Martina gives the parents
the feeling of trust and respect," says Stefan Bell, site director at Robertson. "She has a wonderful relationship
with all of her children's families."
That relationship is enhanced by things like the parents' board in her classroom, displaying information in both
Spanish and English. There are pictures of parents volunteering in the classroom and postings of family pictures on
all of the walls. Carter has also set up a library where parents are encouraged to check out books for their children
"I think what has impressed me most about Martina is her caring and warmth in working with young children," says
Cohen. And Carter gets that warmth back in return. "I guess one of the best things about being an early childhood
teacher is just the hugs and kisses you get when the kids arrive in the morning," says Carter. "There's nothing more
rewarding than participating in the growth and development of young children."
The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
1850 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago
Birth to 3 - early intervention
"I can’t change what is, but we can maximize what they have." Those are words that Marla Garstka lives by every day.
She is an extraordinarily dedicated early intervention specialist with The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are
Blind or Visually Impaired. The work she does is nothing short of amazing.
"Marla does all the evaluations of our new children," says Mary Zabelski, Director of Educational Services for The
Chicago Lighthouse. "The families immediately want her to be their teacher, but they can’t all have her. As it is,
she has more than double the caseload that she should—but Marla wants to serve as many kids and families as she
possibly can." Every week Garstka drives up to four hours a day throughout Chicago and the suburbs to work
individually with more than twenty children in their homes. And Garstka has been dedicated to her work at The
Chicago Lighthouse for the past 23 years.
Garstka became passionate about helping visually impaired children when she was in seventh grade. "I had the
opportunity to work at a day camp for visually impaired children, and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my
life," she recalls. Garstka enrolled in a special education program at Northern Illinois University that emphasized
teaching the visually impaired and received her master's from Northeastern Illinois University in early childhood
"My philosophy in working with my families has been to honor their personal lifestyles and cultural differences and to
develop educational goals for their children based on individual strengths and needs," declares Garstka.
"Marla has a wonderful ability to engage our daughter in play, which helps her to learn," relates Elaine Horwitz.
"Marla employs bubbles, lotion, lights, movement, music...whatever it takes to stimulate our daughter to respond and
relate to objects and people."
Families look to Garstka for guidance beyond the area of visual impairments. She often acts as a liaison with
additional specialists, including physical therapists and speech specialists. "She helps us to make sense of
things," says another family Garstka serves.
Garstka feels a key to teaching her students and helping them succeed is to help parents
"see the glass as half full." She is able to focus on emerging skills and learning abilities rather than looking
at disabilities. "I see parents who are going through such grieving—parents who are grieving their hopes, grieving
their dreams for their children," says Garstka. "It makes me so happy to see the growth in both the parents and the
kids over just a few years. And it feels good to see just how proud the parents are with their children’s progress."
"I think the world of Marla Garstka," says Zabelski. "And the children and parents whom she has taught credit her
with changing their lives."
Robert Healy Elementary School (CPS)
3040 South Parnell Ave., Chicago
State Pre-K - NAEYC Accredited
"How are you feeling today?" That simple question helps the students in Mary Hanson’s State Pre-K classroom at
Chicago’s Robert Healy Elementary School begin their literacy development each day. This innovative teacher has
used this question to cross cultural boundaries and connect with her students.
"I take digital photos of each child making happy, sad, mad, and scared expressions," relates Hanson. The pictures
are put on a display board, and each day the children choose the expression that best represents how they feel,
changing photos as their feelings change throughout the day.
Using pictures is important to facilitating communication. More than half of the children in the classroom speak
Chinese and are new to the English language. Others speak Spanish. So Hanson has developed innovative ways of
communicating and teaching. For example, the children use their bodies to form the shapes of letters. Hanson
photographs the children in color-coded clothing forming the letters, and uses them to make books for each child;
the books are sent home where they are used as a learning tool by their families.
Hanson believes parents and community members are a key to her students’ success. That’s why she petitioned the
Chinese American Service League to help in her classroom. They responded with a "Chinese grandmother" five days a
week to assist Hanson and her students. She also has frequent visitors from Hispanic families to work with the
children. It all creates a melting pot. As one recent visitor to her classroom observed, "Not only are the
non-English speaking children learning to understand English, all children are learning some Chinese and Spanish,
Hanson’s devotion to her students doesn’t end when class is dismissed. She received a grant to fund a Saturday
program for parents and children to learn and work together. "For many of our parents, English is their second
language, so this program is invaluable," says colleague Lorraine Ryan. "Many of the parents were learning to
read right along with their children."
Hanson’s leadership goes beyond the classroom. She has long served on the Local School Council, and advocates for
her colleagues and their students through the Chicago Teachers Union. She provides professional development at
numerous workshops and serves as a mentor to other teachers. "She enables teachers to feed off each other to find
better ways to work with children and families," says Principal Mary-Ellen Ratkovich.
Hanson holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and has earned National Board Certification as an early
childhood generalist. Her training and leadership would certainly allow Hanson to rise to any administrative position. But, as Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, another award-winning teacher who has observed Hanson for years, relates, "Mary has more energy than her young students. She is a career teacher and stays in the classroom where she knows that she makes the biggest difference."
Inter-American Magnet School (CPS)
919 W. Barry Ave., Chicago
Walk into the first grade classroom of Maeve Kanaley, and you’re likely to hear her playing the guitar and singing.
"Music is a pathway to literacy," she explains. "The children know that the words they sing are the words they can
In using music to teach literacy, Kanaley utilizes Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. "Music engages
most learners," she says. "We also add movement to our songs and poems, so we’re engaging kinesthetic learners, too."
"Maeve keeps in the forefront of her mind how to address multiple pathways to literacy," relates her colleague,
Lucía Morales. "Her students are often given opportunities to reenact texts in order to aid their reading
Kanaley’s innovative classroom at Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago is a place of excitement and wonder for
her first graders. "There are 100 sight words that Chicago Public Schools wants first graders to know by the end of
the year," she says. Kanaley uses songs, games and dramatization to teach those words, and to teach such skills as
handwriting, comprehension, fluency and socialization. "My son Nicky was absolutely enthralled with Ms. Kanaley’s
instruction," says Scott Ahlman. "She is one of the finest teachers I’ve ever known." That’s high praise: Ahlman is
not just a parent; he’s a Chicago Public School principal.
Kanaley says she was not a great reader when she was growing up. "I had some great teachers, but never felt
confident reading. It wasn't until I got older that I became a reader, and I feel that I missed a lot because of that. So now I try to develop a love of reading in my students." With an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in urban teaching from Columbia College, Kanaley was well suited to the task. She is a recipient of National Board Certification and teaches in the Educational Studies Graduate Program at Columbia College. For the past two summers, Kanaley has participated in the Reading and Writing Institutes at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.
Morales believes the environment Kanaley creates goes a long way toward the success of her students. "They feel safe
to take risks speaking, listening, reading and writing throughout the day," says Morales. "Her classroom is joyful!"
What does Kanaley hope her students take away from her classroom? "I want them to leave at the end of the year with
a sense of identity—I want them to say ‘I’m a reader, I’m a writer, I love learning!’"
Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center (CPS)
6041 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago
Growing up in war-torn El Salvador, Hertha Ramirez saw firsthand the effect of her country's violence on the children.
"When I was a young teenager, we visited the refugee camps and saw the victims of the war," recalls Ramirez.
"In those fragile, frightened faces I saw children who needed stimulation, and I became fascinated by how children
Children had always surrounded Ramirez. "I had numerous cousins and I was the oldest," recalls Ramirez. "There were
always kids around and I think that’s when I first thought about being a teacher." Her experiences visiting the
refugees cemented the idea.
Hertha Ramirez found her way out of the violence of El Salvador to teach peace in Chicago schools. Today, she teaches
3- to 5-year olds at the Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center on Chicago’s west side. "All of my students are
Hispanic and most of them come from low-income families," relates Ramirez. But that doesn’t mean that she has
lowered her expectations. "One of the main reasons for her success as a teacher is the expectations that she has for
her students," says Marta Moya-Leang, head teacher at Belmont-Cragin.
When she was a sophomore in high school, the civil war in Ramirez’s homeland was the impetus for her to come to
America. Speaking not a word of English, Ramirez, her mother and two sisters arrived in Chicago. A few years later,
she graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in child development, and quickly got a job as a
prekindergarten teacher. She earned her master's degree in early childhood education a few years later.
"Parental collaboration and support are the backbone of her success as a teacher," says her principal, Maria Cabrera.
To that end, she has parents write a "Hopes and Dreams" letter to their child. "The children are fascinated to hear
their parents’ thoughts," says Ramirez. The children later put together an artistic interpretation of the letter.
Such interaction helps parents become aware that they are a valuable resource. "She constantly reminds us how
powerful we are in the education of our children," exclaims parent Caridad Garcia.
Ramirez also believes strongly in dual language instruction. "My students are aware that they have a home language
that is valued, and they are excited at learning a second language." That respect for language and culture further
bonds Ramirez, her students and their parents.
Other teachers draw inspiration from Ramirez. "I find myself learning something new from her every day," says
Moya-Leang. "She stands out in her ability to make children love school, love learning, love their teacher, and
love sharing their talents in the classroom," says Principal Cabrera, "and her enthusiasm is hard to match!"
About the McCormick Tribune Foundation
The McCormick Tribune Foundation is one of the nation’s largest charitable organizations and encompasses:
- Five grantmaking programs — citizenship, communities, education, journalism and special initiatives
- Cantigny Park & Golf
- Three world-class museums: Cantigny First Division Museum, the Robert R. McCormick Museum and the new McCormick
Tribune Freedom Museum
A focus on children, communities and country unites the foundation and its many parts and keep us true to our
mission of advancing the ideals of a free and democratic society. The foundation is an independent nonprofit,
separate from Tribune Co., with substantial holdings in Tribune Co. For more information about the foundation and
its efforts, please visit www.McCormickTribune.org