MIPA Co-VPs of Preschool Jessica Apodaca and Amanda Colburn present Michele Saunders with the Exceptional Educator award. Katie Metzger/staff photo

MIPA Co-VPs of Preschool Jessica Apodaca and Amanda Colburn present Michele Saunders with the Exceptional Educator award. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Mercer Island Preschool Association awards exceptional educator

Sunnybeam’s Michele Saunders receives the 2018 recognition.

This year, the Mercer Island Preschool Association (MIPA) recognized a teacher who is “the definition of an exceptional educator.”

According to her nominations, Sunnybeam’s lead teacher Michele Saunders is “endlessly dedicated and devoted to the children, patient, meets each child where they are and understands every child has their own needs.”

MIPA members, along with current and former Sunnybeam students and parents, surprised Saunders with the Exceptional Educator award on May 30. The award recognizes a teacher, assistant or administrator who has made exceptional contributions to the preschool community through their dedication to early childhood education.

Saunders has been teaching age groups varying from Pre-K to second grade for 15 years, and has been at Sunnybeam School for the past five. She said the award was “overwhelming, but a wonderful gift.”

Saunders said she loves teaching preschoolers because that age is “the foundation of kids building their sense of self-worth, and community.”

“The community here is what makes this school what it is,” she said. “The families are so connected and supportive.”

Exceptional Educator Michele Saunders smiles with current and former students and parents at Sunnybeam School on May 30. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Exceptional Educator Michele Saunders smiles with current and former students and parents at Sunnybeam School on May 30. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Parents and peers who nominated Saunders for the award said she was at the center of that community. They said she “embodies the spirit of Sunnybeam — a ray of sunshine that children are drawn to.”

She is a “calm, compassionate,” “positive, patient, kind, curious, flexible and knowledgeable” teacher who “leads with good humor and a big heart,” “is well aware of all the individual needs of each preschooler under her care” and “notices when a family is in need of extra attention and always goes the extra mile.”

One nominator said they “admire Michele’s ability to balance being there for each individual student by tailoring her approach to address each kid’s idiosyncrasies while also ensuring that all kids are treated fairly and equally.”

“Her warmth and joy make the school a wonderfully happy place to learn and grow. Every day, she balances kindness and firmness to help support the meaningful learning of her students,” according to another.

Saunders “is a dedicated professional who seriously applies her educational training to making the best experience for each student in her class.”

Saunders attended Western Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary child development with a minor in psychology, as well as her teaching certification.

Exceptional Educator Michele Saunders poses for a photo with students at Sunnybeam School on May 30. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Exceptional Educator Michele Saunders poses for a photo with students at Sunnybeam School on May 30. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Sunnybeam School’s curriculum is child centered. Its classroom is center-based, literacy rich and focuses on children learning through having fun, according to its website, www.sunnybeamschool.org. It operates in the historic Lakeview School building, which was built in 1918 to house eight grades of Mercer Island students. In 1988, the building was entered on the National Register of Historic Places.

MIPA, established in 1937, is a private nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to enhancing the lives of children from newborn through kindergarten in Mercer Island and the community at large. MIPA has awarded the Exceptional Educator annually since 2006. See www.mipreschoolassociation.org for more.

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