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Daycare toddler teacher wins prestigious award

AWARD WINNER: Daycare centre staff member Jennie Lalor (second from left) wins an award for professionalism and teamwork. From left are Jennifer Cloke-Campbell of Umbrella Central Daycare Services, Lalor, Tracey Robertson, a board member at the centre, and Joanne Quinn, director of the centre. (Photo by Chillmond Yiu.)

by Rosalyn Solomon

A longstanding employee of the daycare centre at U of T Scarborough has won a prestigious award that recognizes her dedication and professionalism.

Jennie Lalor is an early childhood educator who has worked at the N’Sheemaehn* Child Care Centre on campus since it opened 17 years ago. She has a photo album full of participant certificates from all of the conferences and workshops she has attended. Now, she can add the Doreen Evelyn Award to her collection.

Lalor is the first recipient of this award, to be given annually to an early childhood educator who pursues continuing education in the ECE field, who is involved in the community, and who demonstrates professionalism and teamwork in her teaching.

All ECE employees at the 350 daycare centres in the Greater Toronto Area affiliated with Umbrella Central Daycare Services were eligible. The award was established following the recent retirement of Doreen Evelyn, a long-time board member and former president of Umbrella.

Lalor says she was completely shocked when the award was presented to her at what she believed would be a regular staff meeting. “I wasn’t clued into anything. An award was the furthest thing from my mind − the news almost gave me a heart attack,” she said. “But now it feels good.” 

The award was presented by Joanne Quinn, Director of the N’Sheemaehn Child Care Centre on campus, and Jennifer Cloke-Campbell, a member of the nominations committee at Umbrella.They surprised Lalor with the news, a plaque and a $500 cheque. A small party was arranged during the meeting, which was held a few weeks ago.  

Quinn says Lalor is simply a cut above the rest. “Jennie is someone who goes above and beyond in the ECE field, attending workshops and applying and sharing that knowledge with the parents, the community and the children,” said Quinn. “She exemplifies the criteria of this award. She’s very interested in the field and is an excellent teacher.”  

Lalor is a long-time Scarborough resident. After she graduated from Centennial College in 1990 with a certificate in ECE, she immediately started working at the N’Sheemaehn Child Care Centre. 

Lalor’s interest in the field and dedication to the job sets her apart, according to Cloke-Campbell. She is known to even use her vacation days to attend conferences and workshops outside of Toronto. “Jennie’s years of experience, her commitment to the field, and her community involvement, all make her stand out,” said Cloke-Campbell. 

In the nomination letter by Quinn and Tracey Robertson, a board member at the centre, Lalor is described as “a very dedicated, nurturing teacher. She often arrives early to prepare programming for the day, and stays late at night to embellish the toddler room, create new themes and bulletin boards, and clean and disinfect toys. Jennie always applies what she learns at the workshops − she even makes paper crafts interesting.”

Although working with toddlers all day might try the patience of some people, Lalor said she thrives on it and finds it fulfilling. “I can’t think of anything that I don’t like. I enjoy hearing the greetings from the kids in the morning, their sense of humour and their language. Sometimes they come in and they don’t know language very well, but later on they develop and you can carry on a conversation with them − it’s all very interesting and rewarding.”

Keeping a positive attitude and knowing how to handle stress makes her job much easier, Lalor said. And, except for the occasional temper tantrum by one of the toddlers, she said there is nothing she dislikes about her career.

Although she spends a lot of her own time at conferences and workshops, Lalor says it does not feel like work. Taking time away from the centre or getting out of the city to learn more about ECE is how she copes with stress, she said.

“I like learning new things,” Lalor said. “There’s always something new to learn from the workshops and you gain more energy from them.” 

(*N’Sheemaehn is a native word for chickadee and is a symbol of care and responsibility.)

 Rosalyn Solomon is a fourth-year student in the journalism program offered jointly by the University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College.

© University of Toronto Scarborough