LINCOLNWOOD, Ill., Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- She strides into the classroom looking like a female Indiana Jones, complete with khaki garb, mud boots, a belt bearing excavation tools, and an oversized magnifying glass in her hand. In a bag slung over her shoulder are bones -- more than a hundred of them -- to be buried and dug up in the schoolyard. This is not a hired actor or a scientist. This is one of four national winners of the Preschool Teacher of the Year Award, dressed like a paleontologist ready to go exploring with her young charges. The makers of the Story Reader family of products, Publications International, Ltd. (PI), announced today the four national winners of the Preschool Teacher of the Year Award, as well as the competition's state winners. The Story Reader(TM) Preschool Teacher of the Year Award is the first and only program to solicit grassroots nominations from parents, teachers and school administrators across the United States. The national winners, each representing either the central, south, east or west regions of the country, include: -- Wendy Butler-Boyesen; Eugene, Oregon -- Geralyn Dunckelman; Houma, Louisiana -- Lisa Frank; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- Karla Lyles; Chicago, Illinois PI fielded hundreds of nominations from March 27 through June 30, each recognizing an outstanding teacher instructing 3- to 6-year-old children in pre-kindergarten settings. An independent panel of leading academics in early childhood education evaluated the nominees. Criteria included the teachers' use of creative teaching techniques, their overall approach to generating excitement about learning, and their ability to evaluate and address individual students' needs. Earlier this year, PI identified the need for a national program to recognize preschool teachers. The company developed the Preschool Teacher of the Year award to show appreciation for these important influencers of young children. "It was inspiring and heartwarming to read the nominations we received, because they all reinforce what most parents know: Preschool teachers have a critical and lasting impact on their children's educations," said Kerry Cunnion, PI Executive Vice President. "While it was difficult deciding on the winners, they all stand out because of their dedication to the children in their programs, and also because of the innovative methods they use to ensure that our youngest students receive a strong start to their school careers. They all inspire a love of learning, just as we at PI strive everyday to create books and electronic products that inspire a love of reading in children." Each of the four national winners will receive a cash prize of $1,500, and a matching $1,500 donation will be made to their respective schools. Each state winner will each receive a 50-title library of books for their classrooms. The retail value of each library is approximately $625, and they will include Story Reader, Story Reader(TM) Video Plus(TM), My First Story Reader(TM) and other PI preschool books. Each of the four national winners demonstrates a distinctive approach to teaching young children. Here are some examples: -- Science means success for Wendy Butler-Boyesen's students at EWEB Child Development Center. The Oregon teacher excites her young students by exploring different scientific themes each month, from hiking through local wetlands to studying the solar system. One student's parent was amazed when she saw the children marching around the classroom gleefully demonstrating their understanding of the terms "oviparous" and "viviparous" following a lesson about animals. -- In addition to her gig as a would-be paleontologist, Geralyn Dunckelman has more than "dino" bones in her bag of tricks. The Louisiana teacher, who instructs Title I preschoolers often identified as at-risk, refuses to accept such labels, saying, "The only thing these children are at-risk of is making a difference in this world." Dunckelman embraces parents as the primary teachers of their children, and often takes the extra step to ensure specific needs are met, even on the home front. When she became aware that one parent was illiterate while another spoke and read only Spanish, she recorded books in English for the family while recruiting a Spanish-speaking volunteer to create Spanish-language versions. These same parents eventually volunteered to read and teach Spanish to the class. -- Variety and contemporary themes set Lisa Frank of McCloskey Elementary School in Philadelphia apart from her peers. Students in her Bright Futures Pre-K classroom get to try anything from yoga to sign language, and Frank always makes it an enjoyable experience. This approach was evident when Frank transformed her classroom into a magical ocean experience, complete with blue cling wrap and sea-creature stickers on the windows, an ocean-sounds CD during naptime, and an edible ocean made of blueberry Jello and Swedish fish. -- Karla Lyles doesn't let Chicago's tougher side get her down. Herself a "graduate" of the city's Altgeld Gardens public housing complex, Lyles' dedication to her students at Our Lady of the Gardens creates "a ray of hope in a distressed community," according to one nomination. Her success is due to her innate ability to listen, observe and engage her students in conversations. For example, when her students expressed interest in building houses, she took them on a construction-site field trip to explore the renovation of homes in their community. The class created a book filled with photos and captions from their excursion, and even enjoyed an on-site school visit by the backhoe driver they befriended on their trip. The product behind the Preschool Teacher of the Year Award, Story Reader is the first-ever portable electronic storybook reader for kids aged three to eight that is now the best-selling line of preschool books in the nation. This success prompted PI to introduce two new products to the Story Reader family in 2006: Story Reader Video Plus, which combines the classic Story Reader with the appeal and entertainment value of video, and My First Story Reader, a smaller, re-designed version of Story Reader for kids aged six months to three years. Often called "the next best thing to a parent's lap," the original Story Reader has earned 17 industry awards since its debut in September 2003. The line now features more than 60 book titles featuring popular licensed characters. The base unit, which comes packaged with a book based on the Disney/Pixar movie, "Finding Nemo," is widely available for around $20. For more information, visit http://www.storyreader.com . About Publications International, Ltd. Publications International, Ltd. (PI), a privately held company based in Lincolnwood, Illinois, is the world's largest publisher of children's products that combine traditional printed books with electronic features that deliver interactivity, learning and entertainment value. Since 1967, PI has provided consumers and retail partners with products defined by creativity, quality and value, operating with the mission to "get as many books into the hands of as many children as possible." PI introduces hundreds of new children's titles annually and sells more than 20 million traditional and electronic soundbooks each year. The company is actively involved in philanthropic literacy efforts, donating books to children's charities and schools to stimulate the love of reading in young people. In addition to its rapidly growing children's book division, PI also publishes widely popular cookbooks, the New Seasons line of albums and journals, and a wide variety of general and specialty titles. For more information, please visit http://www.pilbooks.com . Contact: Dave Blumberg/Ann Morris Healy Communications, Inc. 312/440-3900; firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE Publications International, Ltd.