Caitlin Schulz wishes Linda Johnson could always be her children's teacher.
Her two daughters have been assigned to her classroom three times but even the first time they met Mrs. Johnson, they immediately connected with her because of the warmth and kindness she radiates. The fact that she also sees how much her children grow each day through her teaching illustrates how powerful she is as an educator.
"My daughters are always singing songs and saying ‘that gives me a connection,’ which comes from Linda’s powerful ability to foster interest and a love of learning," Mrs. Schulz said.
It's Mrs. Johnson's remarkable work in early childhood education—whether hands-on with children, supporting and inspiring her fellow educators or being a key figure in developing the district's early childhood education efforts—that's earned her the 2021 Crystal Apple Award.
“Linda’s passion for education is evident in everything she does, and her positive energy is infectious,” says Katey Bryan, ELC Director. “She is an advocate for all students and truly leads by example when it comes to being an educator.”
The Crystal Apple Award is awarded to teachers in and around the Tri-Cities by Educational Service District (ESD) 123. The award honors educators who have a positive impact on the lives and futures of students. Each district may nominate one teacher to receive the award each year.
Johnson is a product of Richland schools and her career in them stretches back to 1992, primarily in kindergarten classrooms. While she loved working with kindergarten students, Mrs. Johnson elected to join the district’s state-funded Early Childhood Education & Assistance Program (ECEAP) as a preschool teacher so she could begin helping students build the skills and collect the tools they would need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
The district opened the Early Learning Center (ELC) to house ECEAP and developmental preschool classrooms at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. While Mrs. Johnson was sad to leave her long-time classroom at Sacajawea, she knew early childhood education was where she belonged and has become a crucial member of the ELC family. Mrs. Johnson's classroom has become a model looked to by state early childhood education officials for best practices and student outcomes.
But Mrs. Johnson is quick to say that she's successful because of everyone at the ELC. She engages and encourages instructional staff in their efforts, celebrates their successes and be part of the team.
“She quickly showed she was willing to step out of her comfort zone in an effort to benefit students and families,” says fellow preschool teacher Theresa Utecht. “ELC students, just being in a program where she collaborates and innovates with their teachers, receive a head start because of her.”
Mrs. Johnson received her Crystal Apple Award at the ELC on Thursday, Feb. 4. ESD 123 will release a video tribute for her and the other winners across the Mid-Columbia on March 11.