They're dedicated and innovative … educators who embrace our youngest learners. The Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award recognizes these patient leaders at the head of the class. And our camera was there to capture the moment each one was honored. Take a look.

"Wave your streamers up high! Come on!"

There's always something to celebrate in Zio Perez's pre-school classroom at Nettlehorst School.

"Let me see your dance moves!"

It's a stark contrast to the classrooms she visited last summer in South Africa.

Zio Perez, Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award Recipient: "I showed them video of my classroom, and they didn't know what to say because they've never seen a classroom like this before, starting from the paint, the desks, the tables, the books. They're lacking a lot of resources."

Ms. Perez is changing that. Inspired by the students she met there, she started Swazikids International, an organization dedicated to bringing resources to students in South Africa.

Zio Perez: "One child at a time is ok for me. So much was given to me when I was growing up. I was raised by a single parent so I'm so grateful for all the support school gave me and my mother and it makes me feel wonderful knowing I can give that all back. I always need to be surrounded by children. It's just so happy. I couldn't find anything more rewarding than this."

From cheers to tears.


Kim Edwards Anderson is all heart when it comes to her kindergartners.

Kim Edwards Anderson, Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award Recipient: "I've always wanted to teach, and I've always loved working with children. I've always wanted to give what some times I think I didn't get but always knew was in me to give it."

Her giving spirit fills her classroom at chase elementary.

"Because it's my passion, that's why I do so well at it. I want to see them smile. I want to see them grow."

It's often her grown students who remind her of the impact she's making.

"I had a student last year, he's in college now, he said 'You know, I still use a lot of things you taught me in kindergarten to help me remember stuff.'"

"My little student, every time she gets something, she says 'I did it! I'm proud of me, are you proud of me too?' So I guess I can do that now, too."

Pride is something special education teacher Nicole Gorton feels each day working with her students at Ortiz de Dominguez School.

Nicole Gorton, Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award Recipient: "We started this classroom, and we're the only autism program in the school, pre-school and kindergarten."

Her classroom is calm, quiet and nurturing. Just like her.

"When I was in high school, I wanted to be a teacher and I did a cadet teaching program at an elementary school. And I checked the box saying I was ok working with special needs children. Because there were so few of us, I got put in a special ed classroom, and I just fell in love with it."

"I'm always thinking about my students and what I can do to do my job better."

Here, success is measured in small increments.

"I can see it in the students, if they're making progress, reaching their goals, increasing their time with the general education population. If they're happy and their parents are happy, that's a good indication that I'm doing what I should be doing."

Each award recipient will receive a $5,000 cash prize as well as $1,000 for her school. A classroom visit from the Storybus -- a children's museum on wheels -- and a graduate-level course at the Erikson Institute rounds out the award package.