Missouri early childhood teacher wins national honor

Friday, March 22, 2013 | 6:39 a.m. CDT; updated 10:28 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 22, 2013

SUNSET HILLS — Lisa Janis sat on the floor next to 4-year-old Alex Sauter, watching him write "3'' on a notepad with a crayon.

"See?" Alex said, showing her his work.

"Good job," Janis said with a smile. She turned her attention to a little girl who tapped her on her shoulder, wanting to show Janis what she had written.

In the classroom, 20 other children had just finished their afternoon naps. Some were enjoying a snack while others were drawing as they sat on the floor. Just another day in The Lions Room at the Lindbergh School District's Early Childhood Education Center.

Soon, however, the children will be playing band instruments, thanks to a national honor won by Janis.

Her 20-year career with Lindbergh reached a milestone in February when she was chosen as the National Child Care Teacher of the Year by the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation. The nonprofit foundation was established to promote early childhood education.

"Was I surprised? Definitely," Janis said. "I'm a little overwhelmed. I feel very grateful."

She will accept her award April 11 in Philadelphia.

Janis was one of 52 teachers nationwide to receive the $500 Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children's Tylenol National Child Care Teachers Award. Janis wrote a grant proposal to seek funds to buy instruments that will help teach music, rhythm, coordination and social skills.

She and 10 other winners then were chosen for the final national award. Because she won, Janis will receive another $1,000 for her project.

"We want to get it going by May," Janis said. "The Early Childhood Education program is year-round, so we don't have to wait until the start of the next school year."

The award was well-deserved, said Charlene Ziegler, director of the Lindbergh Early Childhood Education Center.

"We're thrilled for her," Ziegler said. "Lisa is always working to help the kids. She has been teaching here for 20 years, so she knows what to do."

The center is for children ages 4 and 5. It is a preschool program that helps develop social and learning skills before they reach kindergarten. The district offers full-time and part-time programs for families.

The program covers a variety of subjects, including writing and numbers. The children receive an early educational foundation. The program also helps discover the academic or social areas in which they may need help.

"Lisa is a master at figuring out what kids need," Ziegler said. "For example, if a child has trouble making friends, she sees that."

When a child is found needing some work in an area, such as reading, there is no need to panic, Janis said.

"We have early intervention that helps them move forward," she said. "When children start school, it's important that they're ready to learn. We work with the families."

The children are learning and seem to have a lot of fun. In the Lions Room, they talked and laughed, eager for recess and a chance to get some fresh air.

It is easy to see Janis' affection for the children. She's an authority figure, but the children are comfortable around her.

Janis is a St. Louis native. She graduated from Ursuline Academy in 1988, then graduated from Truman State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in family science. She attended Webster University for her teaching certificate and master's degree in early childhood education.

As for the remainder of her career, she is content to stay with Lindbergh's center.

"I don't have any desire to move up to the high school or go somewhere else," Janis said. "The kids I taught come back to visit me. It's always great to see them."

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