The winning teaching team, Ramona Stewart (left) and Misty Knott (right), pose next to the library nook they won for their classroom at James A. Duff Elementary School.

Teamwork, joy, and a deep love of children are the key components for success for the first ever Head Start Teaching Team of the Year. Out of 64 classrooms in the Big Sandy Area Community Action Program grant service area, Misty Knott and Ramona Stewart, from James A. Duff Elementary Head Start in Floyd County, were named this year’s winners.

Knott has been teaching Head Start for 11 years and assistant teacher Ramona Stewart has been with the program for 23 years. “We just like working with children and being around children,” Knott, who had always wanted to be a teacher, said. After spending time working as a bookkeeper and secretary, Stewart is fulfilling what she describes as her “lifelong dream to work with little kids.”

Knott said that Head Start holds a special place for her. “It’s the foundation to get the kids ready for school and for life. We teach them how to eat and sit and listen, just all the very foundational skills a child needs.” Stewart echoed her colleague saying that helping children learn about good behavior, all the basic elements of being in a classroom, having a schedule, and going about the day is a critical part of their early education. “We’re firm with them, but we love them. We don’t have any problems with behavior or anything like that,” Stewart said.

Knott and Stewart, who can practically finish each other’s sentences, say that the key to their success is the strong partnership they have forged over the years together. “It’s the teamwork and the real passion and love we have,” Knott said. Stewart added, “It’s patience and love for kids.”

Knott explained that she and Stewart see eye-to-eye on most choices and are sure to stand behind one another because they keep the focus on providing what is best for each child in their care. And while each agree that finishing paperwork is the most difficult part of their job, they say they wouldn’t trade it for any other. “There’s so much paperwork. It’s not that the paperwork is hard; it’s just finding the time to finish it. But we work out ways to get it done and we’ve never been late with anything,” Knott said. But the true reward the team receives is from the hugs and smiles of the children.

“The hugs and the ‘I love you’s’ make all the difference,” Knott said. “That’s what we do every day before they leave. We give them a hug and say, ‘I love you. See you tomorrow,’” Stewart added.

The duo say they ensure that each child is treated the same as all the others and they work to make learning safe, fun, and full of care. Knott explained, “I wish that every child could have at home what they have here. Sometimes the love and the nurturing is missing at home and I wish they could all have that all the time.”

Knott said that at the end of the day, “You have to do whatever it takes and the little things feel so good. Say a child came in at the beginning of the year and couldn’t put their coat on, if they can do it by the end of the year, it just makes you feel so good. It’s just the little things.”
The team said they were surprised by the Teaching Staff of the Year award and were very pleased with the library nook they received as a prize for their classroom, but were quick to add, “It’s nice to be recognized, but we’re here for the kids first.”

Knott and Stewart became this year’s winners by having at least 85 percent child attendance for the entire year, scoring in the Top 10 (out of 64) on the CLASS observation tool, having 15 or fewer negative findings during the annual grantee record review, completing the required child assessments for all children within the stated timeline, completing the recommendations by the School Readiness Committee within the stated timeline, and having the a number of parent volunteer hours.

Big Sandy Area Community Action Program is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a vast array of services, such as employment and training assistance, weatherization of homes, and area Head Start programs, in order to assist individuals and families in obtaining self-sufficiency. Through collaborative efforts of community and organizational partnerships, BSACAP seeks to improve the overall quality of life within the Floyd, Johnson, Martin, Magoffin, and Pike County communities. To learn more about BSACAP and their programs, visit www.bsacap.org or call the service office in your county.