Tuesday morning, for the second time this year, Channie Frazier, who teaches prekindergarten at Kids World Learning Center, walked into a big surprise. But now that she is a statewide Pre-K Teacher of the Year winner instead of just a finalist, even more guests turned up.
This time, Georgia first lady Sandra Deal, Atlanta philanthropist Stephanie Blank, and Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, or DECAL, Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs and the department’s giant puppy mascot, CALi, were there. So was Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore. Evan Frazier’s parents, Joseph and Connie Hasty of Riceboro, came to the day care center on Savannah Avenue to see their daughter so honored.
“Oh my! I had a feeling, I did,” Frazier blurted out.
But still she said she really was surprised.
“I’m humbled, I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m honored; 10,000 emotions in one,” she told reporters.
Two out of 3,800
Public schools and private day care centers host Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-K classes for children 4 years old. So when the department and Blank’s Naserian Foundation launched the program to recognize outstanding pre-K teachers, they decided to salute two teachers each year.
When the first round of the program opened last December, there were 75 nominations, said Meghan McNail, outreach coordinator for DECAL, which also brands itself “Bright from the Start.” The 3,800 or so lead pre-K teachers statewide were eligible.
Six finalists, including three from public schools and three from private centers, were announced in May. Frazier and the other finalists each received $500 cash awards for their personal use at that time.
Tuesday, Frazier received a $2,500 prize as one of the two top honorees, and Kids World will receive $1,500 for materials or upgrades for her classroom. Additionally, the contest will reimburse Kids World for paying substitute teachers on days that Frazier is away serving as a spokesperson for prekindergarten in Georgia and for her travel and lodging during these excursions, Jacobs said.
Frazier is the first-ever statewide pre-K teacher of the year from among private centers. Deal, Blank and entourage bestowed a similar surprise Monday on Connie Ellington of Bethlehem Elementary School in Bartow County. She is the public school pre-K teacher of the year.
‘Teacher’ since age 10
Frazier always knew she wanted to work with children. From the age of 9 or 10 she served as a babysitter in her family.
“I was teaching my cousins, I was teaching my younger sisters, and my aunt nicknamed me Teacher,” Frazier said. “She’s been calling me that ever since.”
Asked what makes her a standout pre-K teacher, she prescribed two things she thinks are essential to do the job well.
“You have to have a love for children, and it can be trying at times, so you need to have patience for children as well, because if you don’t, it won’t work,” said Frazier, who has four sons. “Just the love that I’ve had for such a long time keeps me wanting to do this.”
However, when Frazier graduated from Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in child and family development in 2004, she considered herself geared toward social services. Then she took a job teaching prekindergarten, and is now in her 11th year, including her first two years at a different facility. She has since attained two master’s degrees, one in early childhood education from Ashford University and another in teaching and learning with technology.
Frazier arrived at Kids World as lead prekindergarten teacher in 2007, the same year Maria Smith started as assistant pre-K teacher there. Nine years later, they continue to teach 22 children each year in Kids World’s one prekindergarten class.
Michelle Smith Lank, owner and director of Kids World, said Frazier and Smith are a great team that she and Statesboro are lucky to have. Even though Frazier’s selection means losing her for a few days this school year, such as when she goes to Children’s Day at the state Capitol, Lank doesn’t mind, she said, but considers it an honor for her center.
“We are extremely excited at this opportunity because I know how great of a teacher she is, and now the entire state knows how great of a teacher she is,” Lank said.
A visit with Deal and her husband, Gov. Nathan Deal, at the Governor’s Mansion was also mentioned as a possibility.
Sandra Deal read to children at Kids World during a past visit. She noted Tuesday that the center has again achieved a top three-star rating in the Department of Early Care and Learning’s “Quality Rated” program for child care.
“It’s the second time they’ve done that, and then to have their teacher who trained at Georgia Southern be selected as the outstanding private school pre-K teacher of the year in the state of Georgia is exciting,” Deal said. “We’re just honored to be here and to celebrate with her and with all the people of Statesboro. I know they’re proud of her.”
Blank, previously married to Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, was working with the Blank Family Foundation when she became interested in early childhood education more than a decade ago. Three years ago, she founded the Naserian Foundation. “Naserian,” meaning “bringer of peace,” was the name given her by Maassai tribe members during a visit to Kenya, she said.
Blank first supported violence prevention and teen pregnancy prevention efforts, but kept hearing from people working with youth in these causes that there was a need to reach children at an earlier age, she said.
The foundation is paying the full cost of the Prekindergarten Teacher of the Year Program, said Blank and Jacobs, the state DECAL commissioner. Statewide, prekindergarten serves about 60 percent of 4-year-olds, or currently about 84,000 children.
“The Georgia pre-K program has been around for 24 years, so we’re just excited that we’re finally able to recognize the heart and soul of the classroom, which are the teachers,” Jacobs said.
Children in Frazier’s class sang “Humpty Dumpty,” prompting some dance moves from costumed character CALi and other guests. Lank teared up as she presented Frazier a bouquet highlighting her favorite color, purple, and gave her a hug.
Next week is Georgia Prekindergarten Week.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.