GREENFIELD — A Greenfield preschool teacher has been recognized as being among the best of the best early childhood educators in the state.

Erin Day, who teaches in the Cougar Cubs preschool at Greenfield’s J.B. Stephens Elementary School, was among just two state educators who received an Early Childhood Educator Excellence Award at the Indiana Department of Education’s Excellence Awards Gala Sept. 8.

“Erin is most deserving of this award. We are so very proud of her,” said Dawn Sonsini, director of preschool and early learning for Greenfield-Central schools.

Day can think of nothing better than welcoming happy children streaming into class on any given school day.

Their happy smiles and sweet hugs are all the thanks she needs, she said, but statewide recognition as a great teacher never hurts.

“I do not like being in the spotlight … but it is an honor. It is exciting,” said Day, whose award included a surprise $2,500 cash prize.

 Greenfield preschool teacher Erin Day, right, was pictured alongside Indiana Secretary of Education, Dr. Katie Jenner, at a Sept. 8 gala hosted by the Indiana Department of Education. Day was one of two educators who received an Early Childhood Educator Excellence Award at the event.

The Early Childhood Educator Excellence Award recognizes individual early childhood educators with over three years of experience who demonstrate a commitment to supporting Indiana’s youngest students in developing kindergarten readiness skills.

Day has much more experience than that. She taught preschool for 22 years for Warren Township schools before joining Cougar Cubs program three years ago.

“I love what I do and I love being with young children, helping them learn and grow, but I’ve grown to be the teacher I am today because of all the other co-workers and friends that have been on this path with me over the last 25 years,” said Day.

“When you work with such an awesome, collaborative team and have leaders that expose you to new ideas in education, that grows your passion of being the best you can be for young students. It makes you want to share your knowledge with others and the children,” she said.

Sonsini said Day has proven to be a remarkable resource for both her students and peers.

“She’s definitely a leader among the Cougar Cubs team, and finds ways to make every child feel included and successful in our program,” said Sonsini.

“Her approach in working with children in our preschool is nurturing. She finds ways to develop relationships and grow students, and she has a wealth of experience and knowledge in early childhood,” she said.

Sonsini said it was a joy to see Day recognized at the state level for the amazing work she does with Greenfield preschool kids.

This year’s Excellence Awards Gala was the second such event hosted by the Indiana Department of Education, which used the gala to award nearly $5 million to schools and educators across the state.

The black-tie affair focuses on celebrating and elevating the work of Indiana’s educators as they support student learning.

“Our goal was to host a red carpet event to celebrate our very best educators, on a level similar to how we celebrate movie stars and professional athletes because their incredible impact deserves to be celebrated at the grandest level we can,” said Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education.

“Many of the educators tonight have positively impacted hundreds of students over the years and are leaders in their local communities. So, bringing them together for an awards night to roll out the red carpet and provide surprise monetary awards is one small way we can spotlight the massive impact they continue to make on our state,” she said.

Jenner said the Educational Excellence Awards Gala was created to shine a light on the impact of Hoosier educators and schools throughout the state, giving special recognition and monetary awards to a chosen few who are shining examples of education done right.

More than 500 educators and guests attended the gala, which recognized the 2023 Indiana Teacher of the Year, Indiana’s 2022 Milken Educator Award recipients and other dedicated educators from across the state.

While Day was thrilled to be honored this year, she said the real reward comes in seeing her young students’ eyes light up with learning each day.

“I love seeing the twinkle in a preschooler’s eye when they have that ‘aha’ moment of learning. I love reading books and stories to the children to expand vocabulary and see the excitement of what might come next. I love the hugs and the things sometimes kids say to us that makes us smile or laugh,” said Day, who is a longtime proponent for preschool.

“Preschool can be an essential part of a child’s success moving on to kindergarten,” she said.

“A lot of times kindergarten teachers can tell which students have been to preschool as those children tend to know how to sit and work with a group, work in small groups together, follow more directions and have some basic academic knowledge. Having a lot of those basic self help and social/emotional skills moving on to kindergarten helps a child be more ready to learn.”