After 26 years of working with Tolland's youngest students, preschool teacher Linda York has earned her title of Tolland's Teacher of the Year many times over.
"I haven't stopped smiling," she said of her reaction to earning the honor. "There are so many outstanding teachers that I work with, that it makes it that much more special."
"Linda has a wealth of knowledge, experience and compassion," said Superintendent William Guzman of York's work in Tolland. "She has never-ending energy, puts in long hours, gives what is needed and is doing what she needs to do. To say Linda goes above and beyond would be an understatement. She is a gifted teacher, a remarkable leader, a dedicated advocate, and an outstanding role model."
York, who has been teaching in Tolland since 1986 but has a total of 34 years of experience, said that teaching has always been a goal in her life.
"I've always wanted to be a teacher from the time I was really little," York said, although some of her very first students may have included her stuffed animals, she recalls.
York has taken her passion and helped build Tolland's preschool and special education program.
Two years ago, she started and now coordinates the school's Applied Behavior Analysis program, which is a specialized and structured teaching plan for students in preschool and kindergarten classes.
The program relies on designated one-on-one teaching time as well as individual learning stations, coupled with small group and regular classroom learning for students who benefit from the program.
The ABA program has helped the district serve students with special needs in Tolland, some of whom previously had to travel out of town for school.
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"Now we're keeping our kids in Tolland, which is wonderful," York said.
The ABA program York implemented is the latest in a long history of her work promoting special education.
In addition to being former program leader and current co-program leader of special education at , York has also led integrated classrooms for typically developing and special education students for a number of years.
"I think all children have the right to learn with typically developing peers," York said, explaining that integrated programs encourage a sense of belonging, positive social interactions and school readiness for all students.
But her years of experience have also taught her that students can get great preparation for kindergarten through a number of programs.
"No one program is right for everybody," York said. "Each child is different."
York has advocated for the availability of a variety of educational resources throughout her career. She helped write the grant that funded the creation of Tolland's Family Resource Center, which runs a separate preschool program within Birch Grove. She also was active with the Special Education Parent Teacher Council, as well as the Tolland Early Readiness Advocacy Council.
However, for York, her students always come before supporting curriculum or programs.
"I really work hard to instill that love of learning for all kids. I think my greatest accomplishments with kids is the work I do every day," she said.
York earned her bachelor's degree in elementary and special education at Central Connecticut State College and her master's degree in preschool special education at Southern Connecticut State College.
While she said that retirement is a possibility in the near future, York added that no matter, her plans will include time for teaching.
"I think I will always be working with children."