LAUP is an NBC4 community partner and this article is part of the station's community outreach initiative.
“I always knew teaching was my calling,” said Compton resident Shauneé Breaux Roberson, the lead teacher and director at the Training and Research Foundation/Ozzie Goren Head Start preschool in Los Angeles. “Working with children has always come naturally, and I’m proud to be a preschool teacher."
Breaux Roberson, along with Silvia Leon, Maribel Cobian, Kathleen Coppinger-Perlman and Anna Shirokova are all educators who have such a "calling" in common. They also share a passion for teaching young children.
The group has been selected as the 2012 Preschool Teacher of the Year Award recipients in Los Angeles County by Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP). The winners represent each of the five supervisorial districts in Los Angeles County.
LAUP is a non-profit organization that financially supports 325 preschools in Los Angeles County, making it possible for more than 10,500 four-year-olds to receive a high-quality preschool education at little or no cost.
Since 2008, LAUP has bestowed its Preschool Teacher of the Year Awards on early-education teachers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference in a child's life.
This year, for the first time, a cash award of $2,000 will be given to each teacher.
"I've never won anything, not even $1 playing the lotto," said Silvia Leon, of South Gate, who has 32 years’ experience working for LAUSD. "I feel so humbled and lucky to do what I do every day because it doesn't feel like a job."
The awards ceremony will take place on April 26 during a gala held at the Globe Theater on the Universal Studios Hollywood lot. NBC4’s Chuck Henry will serve as Master of Ceremonies.
"All five teachers share the vision, leadership and commitment to the proper care and development of a young child that is critically needed in today's society," said LAUP CEO Celia C. Ayala. "We are thrilled to honor these educators because teachers are the unsung heroes, and deserve to be recognized for all the tireless hours they put into molding the minds of children."
In Long Beach, Maribel Cobian works with economically disadvantaged families in the area. She said that preschool helps level the playing field, especially among low-income children so that they can enter kindergarten better prepared.
"A young child needs to develop their self-help and social skills just as much as they need to learn the alphabet, and preschool is a great place for a child to learn all the fundamentals," said Cobian, who works at Un Mundos de Amigos preschool. "It's about getting them to feel good about themselves, and if they do, their confidence level makes a big difference in their ability to focus and learn."
Finding focus and a clear career path changed in college for winner Kathleen Coppinger-Perlman, who was originally planning a profession in nutrition.
"I was lucky to be influenced by one professor who brought the field of early education to life for me, and 30 years later, I'm still doing what I love to do," said Coppinger-Perlman, who teaches at the Lemay Early Education Center in Van Nuys.
Loving what they do for a living is the common theme for all of these awardees, including Anna Shirokova, of Chatsworth. Unlike the other winners, Shirokova has transformed her personal home into a preschool program called Teremok Preschool and Family Child Care.
"I love dance, music and outdoor activities, as well as exposing children to different cultures and traditions to enhance their learning,” Shirokova said. "It is my passion and goal to inspire others to never stop learning."
For more information on how you can attend the 2012 Preschool Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony, or to enroll your child in a Los Angeles county preschool program, click here or call 1.866.675.5400.