Jill Corea, a preschool teacher at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center of the Madison Area YMCA, has won the Helene Marks Award, which bestows on her the distinction of National Child Care Teacher of the Year. One of 50 national winners of a Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children’s TYLENOL® National Child Care Teacher Award, Jill had been selected as a top 10 finalist for the award before learning she was awarded the top honor in the nation.

Bringing art, science and purposeful play to the activities she does with her students, Jill’s classroom is also a wonderland of colorful rainbows, bright sunshines and showers of happiness—a reflection of her winning submission “Sunshine Day,” a weather-based project that will be spread out across the academic year. “Preschoolers love weather,” says Jill, using rain as an example. “They love to look at rain, jump in rain, play in rain and talk about how rain helps plants. We include the weather in lots of classroom activities. The children take turns being meteorologists. We talk about how different weather patterns are happening at the same time all over the country and the world.”  


Jill explains that the project will extend to learning opportunities in areas such as math, literacy, vocabulary and STEM. Children will participate in hands-on experiences by building things.  

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A teacher at the Kirby Center for 25 years, Jill couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. “I love it. It’s my home away from home,” says Jill, whose first full-time job after graduating from high school was at the Kirby Center. “We are a family at Kirby. We rely on each other and celebrate each other’s successes” she says, noting the sense of community she feels with the entire YMCA.” 


Jill also met her husband at the Kirby Center when they worked together after high school. The couple’s three daughters, who range from 13-24, grew up in the Y, having attended the Kirby Center and Y camp throughout their childhoods.