Two area child care centers took home top honors for their contributions to developing young minds at the annual Partnership for Children of Johnston County’s Provider Celebration Night.
Lionsgate Child Development Center, described by a parent nominee as having the same atmosphere as going to “Grandma’s house”, captured the evening’s top award, Center of the Year.
Held last month at The Clayton Center, the event was sponsored by First Citizens Bank and recognized that quality education is crucial to a child’s future academic success.
“We made a really good decision by choosing Lionsgate,” said Clayton resident Carla Jones. Her parents had been watching her three children, ages 2, 6 and 8 but it was time to make a change.
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“We were transiting the kids from Grandma’s house to a different form of childcare,” she explained. “Our expectations were super high but when we walked through the door we knew it was just like Grandma’s house.”
Jones said her family was immediately made comfortable by staff and administrators at Lionsgate. They had observed multiple facilities throughout the county before making a decision. Her children, Emma, Macon and Riley, look forward to spending time at the center.
“They truly care for each and every child as if they were their own,” agreed parent James Lucado. “There’s such a peace of mind when you drop them off.”
Lucado’s children, Peyton, 7, and Bradley, 5, have attended Lionsgate for almost three years.
“This honor was very well deserved,” he said. “I am amazed at how clean the center always is and how friendly and personable the staff is. The teachers are always keeping the kids involved.”
Winning the award came as a complete shock to director Heidi McCaskey. Lionsgate was notified about the nomination a few weeks prior to the ceremony and allowed a team of judges to tour their facility to observe classrooms and review community involvement efforts. Winners were chosen by a selection committee of early childhood specialists from Wayne, Wilson, and Wake counties and instructors from Wake Technical Community College and Wayne County Partnership for Children.
“It was one of the most amazing days of my life,” McCaskey said. “It was nice to be recognized for how much all of our hard work has paid off. We really do enjoy our jobs.”
Many of Lionsgate’s 17-member staff were in attendance at the ceremony and shared in the celebration.
“They genuinely love what they do and work so hard to make the children happy,” said McCaskey. “We are very close and family oriented.”
Teacher of the Year honors went to Clayton resident Joanne Moore, an educator at Little Stepping Stones. Nominated without her knowledge by her sister and center’s director, Elizabeth Moore, she has 22 years of experience working with pre-school students.
“It’s really not my thing to be in the spotlight,” said Joanne Moore. “When I found out what she had done, I was a little bit upset. I love what I do and don’t feel the need to be recognized for it.”
Moore was under the weather on the evening of the big reveal and wasn’t quite sure she would be able to attend.
“It didn’t dawn on me at first that I was chosen,” she said. “My parents were there as well as my sisters and co-workers. My Dad started to cry and that made me cry. I was really honored to be chosen.”
Moore instructs a classroom of 4 and 5 year-olds as part of the NC Pre-Kindergarten program, which is designed to provide school readiness for eligible students. Nearly half of the group was non-English speaking when they arrived to class last August. Now, all but two are fluent in English and Spanish and are translating for other students. Moore doesn’t speak Spanish but plans on learning over the summer.
“The best thing about coming to work every day is seeing how much the children have grown,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed watching them transform into socially, independent people. I’ve tried reading them books in Spanish but they laugh and correct me. They are teaching me as well.”
This is the third year Little Stepping Stones has been recognized for their efforts. They have also been cited for Center of the Year and Director of the Year.
“We are very proud of her,” said the center’s owner and Joanne’s mother Mary Moore. “She’s accomplished a lot in her first year teaching this program. These children learn a lot and are prepared for kindergarten by the time they leave. Our teachers work very hard.”
Other award recipients were Kids R Kids of Clayton-Superior Nurturing Environment Award, Building Blocks Child Care and Development Center #3-Excellence in Inclusion Award, Lisa Skillern of Kids R Kids-Superior Teacher-Child Interactions, and Leah Jones of Building Blocks Child Care and Development Center-Superior Classroom Environment.
The top winners received a plaque and gift baskets filled with $750 worth of prizes and educational materials donated by local businesses.