Joanne Saunders of Acorn Early Learning Centre celebrated for teaching excellence

By Amanda Douglas

Cathy Lothrop and Joanne Saunders

Cathy Lothrop, left, presents Joanne Saunders, aka Miss Jo, of Acorn Early Learning Centre, with the Prime Minister’s Award of Excellence in Early Childhood Education, Certificate of Achievement.

On November 20, Joanne Saunders, aka Miss Jo, was honoured by the families and friends of Acorn Early Learning Centre and presented with the Prime Minister’s Award of Excellence in Early Childhood Education, Certificate of Achievement. Quite appropriately, this happened on National Child Day and as part of a celebration of Acorn’s fourth anniversary. Over 250 parents and children enjoyed a feast of homemade sandwiches, vegetable plates and cookies – mostly made by the children. Then all gathered in the large meeting hall to witness the presentation. The children’ choir opened the ceremony with a call and response song, setting the tone for the presentation. As was fitting, the children also closed the celebration by leading the audience – with a bit of gentle prompting from Miss Jo – in singing the Beatle favourite “All You Need is Love.”

Why the award? Joanne embodies creativity, compassion and care for community in both the professional and personal spheres of her life. Not just an inspiring teacher, Joanne is a humanitarian, a mentor, a mother, adoptive mother and friend. She brings her creativity and passion for life and teaching into the workplace to encourage, motivate and inspire all of those around her.

Joanne has worked with children for more than 30 years in different capacities – as an in-home care provider, in a nursery school, in licensed childcare centres, as a foster parent and a volunteer in the community. In 2008, with the support of Glebe community families who believed in her vision, Joanne founded the Acorn Early Learning Centre where she and her loyal teaching staff currently provide full daycare for children 18 months to 12 years of age. As Executive Director, Joanne is Acorn’s creative and strategic mind. In her own genuine and compassionate way, Joanne is able to promote each child’s awareness of themselves and each other, their local community and world, and the impact of their actions and those of others.

Programs at Acorn include music, creative arts, choir and piano lessons. Trained to educate children with a variety of special needs, Joanne believes in integration and providing an ethical, caring and supportive environment in which children with special needs can flourish. Helping children and families in need in the community has always been of upmost importance to Joanne. Through her vision, values and leadership, Acorn is able to provide childcare to two families with financial challenges. Joanne also provides support and leadership to her teaching staff by encouraging ongoing professional development. Through Joanne’s leadership, the team at Acorn invites children to explore and problem solve, individually and in groups, to get involved in small and large projects, and to respect their world, themselves and others.

Cathy Lothro, Renee Sigouin and Joanne Saunders

Cathy Lothrop and Renee Sigouin present Joanne Saunders aka Miss Jo with Prime Minister’s Award of Excellence in Early Childhood Education, Certificate of Achievement

Joanne has a magical way of making everyday experiences meaningful. Her special projects have included “The Clean Water Project,” “The High Rise Construction Project,” and “Saving Ella the Turtle Project” which became a 14-month project of ongoing study of turtles, habitat, water and environments. The children are given opportunities to understand our responsibilities to people outside the school such as those who were in need following the earthquake in Haiti, local families displaced after losing their homes, and attendees at the Ottawa Mission. Joanne continually strives to involve parents, families and the community in the children’s learning. One park party was organized to raise money to allow Ella the turtle to be successfully rehabilitated, and a second was put together at the time that Ella was to be released.

Joanne has dedicated her life to the Reggio Emilia philosophy for Early Childhood Education (ECE) to positively influence the lives of the children in her care and the experiences of her teaching staff. Her commitment to children’s education inspired her to open her own school and to act as a resource for its parents, the community and colleges. She is a leader in her field, active in advancing the profession through mentoring, knowledge sharing, providing ECE students with valuable practice teaching placements yet committed to personal professional development each year.

She is also a role model. She loves the outdoors, volunteers for a conservation club and encourages youth involvement in outdoor activities such as fishing and conservation. In her spare time, Joanne is a hockey goalie and an organic gardener who grows most of her own food. She rides her motorcycle and dirt bikes, kayaks and puts worms on fishing hooks for kids on National Kid’s Fishing Day.

Joanne would like to thank her nominating committee, Cathy Lothrop and Renee Sigouin, as well as this community for believing in her and in Acorn.

Amanda Douglas is an early childhood educator and the director of the Acorn Early Learning Centre.

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