Permanent Fund announces finalists for 2017 Early Educator of the Year

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Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:20pm -- Denise Sortor

The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children is pleased to announce the finalists for the third annual Early Educator of the Year Award, which recognizes and celebrates early educators who have gone above and beyond to positively impact the lives of children, and have been a valuable resource for families. The 2017 Early Educator of the Year finalists are: Cheryl “Cookie” Danyow, of Addison, and Ellen Kraft, of Richmond.

Both finalists will be honored at the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children (VAEYC) Annual Conference on Thursday, October 12th at the Killington Grand Hotel, where one will be named the Early Educator of the Year and receive $5,000 and all expenses paid to attend the 2018 VAEYC conference as well as one national conference. The runner-up will receive $1,000 and all expenses paid to attend the 2018 VAEYC conference.

Cheryl “Cookie” Danyow, owner of Mountain Road Preschool in Addison, has been working with children for 30 years. She has both an indoor and an outdoor classroom and encourages children to explore nature and learn from their surroundings. “The philosophy of my program is to provide a safe, healthy, hands-on learning environment where children can learn and explore and expand at their own pace,” she said. “We always have a science area going. We've done the monarch butterflies, from caterpillars to butterflies — the children love it!”

Ellen Kraft, owner of Honeycomb Kids in Richmond, said she wants children in her program to feel comfortable and safe to play and just be kids. “Play is everything to a kid. Play is how they move through the world,” she said. Kraft said she and her staff focus on being positive influences for the children in the program. “The adults, we are the curriculum. The kids take in everything that we do and they’re genetically engineered to copy that,” she said. “Making sure we are truly worthy of imitation is a huge part of what we do.”

The Permanent Fund created the Early Educator of the Year Award to recognize and celebrate excellence in the teaching of Vermont's young children to bring attention to the importance of high-quality early care and learning. Each year, the award alternates between honoring home-based providers and center-based providers.

“Besides parents, early educators are the first teachers our children have and their work lays an important foundation at the most crucial time of development in our children’s lives,” said Permanent Fund CEO Aly Richards. “By honoring those who are doing great work, we are demonstrating to all Vermonters what high-quality early care and learning looks like.”

The award selection committee is comprised of local leaders in Vermont’s early education field, including: Geralyn Barrows, 2015 Early Educator of the Year; Laurel Bongiorno of Champlain College; Kim Buxton of VAEYC; Chloe Learey of the Winston Prouty Center; Sheila Quenneville of the Vermont Child Care Providers Association; Betsy Rathbun-Gunn of Building Bright Futures; and Stacy Weinberger of the State Board of Education.

About the Permanent Fund for Vermont's Children

Founded in 2000 by philanthropists Rick Davis and Carl Ferenbach, the Permanent Fund works to improve the quality of Vermont's early care and learning system primarily through the support of two statewide initiatives: Let's Grow Kids and Vermont Birth to Five. Using a collaborative philanthropic approach, the Permanent Fund works with other funders, non-profits, community leaders and policymakers to improve educational outcomes, build stronger communities and make a lasting difference in the lives of Vermont's children. The Permanent Fund for Vermont's Children is a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation. For more information, visit