Burlington, Vermont—Let’s Grow Kids has recognized the following four Vermonters as Early Childhood Superheroes for going above and beyond to help young children reach their full potential.
Mandi Menard, of St. Albans, is co-owner of KinderStart Preschool in Williston. In her dual role as program director and lead preschool teacher, Mandi develops and nurtures trusting relationships with the children and families served by her program while simultaneously supporting program staff to provide the highest quality care possible.
“I love the relationships component of this work,” Mandi says. “I enjoy getting to know the children’s interests and using that information to plan new things and see them get really excited about what they’re learning.”
Mandi is always challenging herself to be the best early educator she can be. In addition to working full-time while pursuing a master’s degree, Mandi is a devoted mom to an infant daughter and 9-year-old son. Over the past year, she’s taken on yet another role as an early childhood advocate as a Let’s Grow Kids Action Team member and was one of the key organizers of the Rally for Kids that was held at the Statehouse in March during Early Childhood Day at the Legislature.
Laurie Metcalfe, of Bennington, is the new executive director of Northshire Day School in Manchester Center. She was previously director of Sunrise Family Resource Center’s Early Care and Education Program, where she designed trauma-sensitive classrooms, oversaw professional development for staff and became a tireless advocate for early childhood education.
“I’m able to touch children’s lives by touching the lives of their teachers—by supporting and empowering them to be leaders in early childhood and to give their best to the kids in their program every day,” Laurie said. “Relationships are at the heart of our work [as early childhood professionals].”
“Everyone has a vital role in making sure every child has the best possible experiences in early childhood,” Laurie said. “My hope for Vermont is that all children get what they need to thrive and grow and that teachers have what they need to grow as professionals and leaders in the field so they are optimally equipped to work with our youngest children.”
Johanna Page, of Burlington, has been an Essential Early Education (EEE) paraeducator in the Burlington School District for over 25 years. She also supports children with special needs at Trinity Children’s Center. Johanna is admired by her colleagues for her unique ability to form special bonds with children who are experiencing challenges in the classroom and to help them be successful and meet their goals.
Johanna, who is retiring this year, said her greatest satisfaction over the years has been to witness the progress of individual children and their families. “It’s rewarding to see that the early education we did prepared them and to see how well they’re doing years later,” Johanna said. “It’s a good feeling knowing you played a role in that child and that family’s development.”
Over the years, Johanna’s earned a reputation for being able to reach kids who no one else could. Johanna insists, “With every child and situation, I’ve learned more from them than they learned from me. I feel very lucky that I have had this job.”
Lori Pinsonneault, of Bennington, has worked in the early childhood field for over 30 years. She’s currently the community-based child care support services coordinator at Sunrise Family Resource Center.
Lori has coordinated professional development opportunities for early childhood professionals in Bennington County for over 25 years, including the annual Bennington County Child Care Association (BCCCA) conference, which reaches over 200 people. This year she took on the challenge of coordinating these opportunities in Rutland County as well.
“I am proud to help our early childhood professionals. I have the pleasure of working with the people who spend their days caring for our children and their families,” Lori said. “These are amazing and dedicated individuals.”
Lori has participated in Early Childhood Day at the Legislature for many years and recruited other early educators and families to join her. She’s also helped plan annual free BCCCA-sponsored community-based fairs that reach over 500 children and families.
“My hope for all of Vermont’s children is that they live in safe homes, filled with adequate food, love and peace,” Lori said.
The selection of Early Childhood Superheroes followed a statewide call for nominations of unsung heroes among educators, child care professionals, parents, grandparents, volunteers, business peoples, policymakers, civic leaders and clergy. From the nominations, a panel of early childhood experts representing Building Bright Futures, Vermont Birth to Five, the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance and Let's Grow Kids selected four Vermonters from various regions of the state who have demonstrated a commitment to the success of Vermont’s youngest children through “above and beyond” contributions to children’s lives.
“These Early Childhood Superheroes are out there in their own communities every day making the sort of positive, lasting change for Vermont's children that we're working to achieve on a statewide level. Their commitment and hard work is an inspiration to all of us who are working to ensure that all Vermont families who need it are able to access high-quality, affordable child care because all our kids deserve a strong start,” said Let’s Grow Kids Campaign Director Robyn Freedner-Maguire.