January 28, 2008


Local preschool teacher receives award to teach cultural diversity


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Susan Drake, head preschool teacher at  the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center, helps Jacob Ruebush, right, and Mackenzie Plunkett with a class project Friday morning. Drake is a finalist in The Terri Lynne Lokoff/Childen’s Tylenol National Child Care Teacher Award.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Susan Drake has lived in Marathon all her life and always knew she wanted to do something with children.
“I’ve always been with children; my mom is a foster parent,” the 35-year-old mother of three said. “I just knew that’s where my heart was.”
After 14 years of working at the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center, the preschool teacher was selected as a finalist for a national award — the Terri Lynne Lokoff Children’s Tylenol National Child Care Teacher Award.
The award comes from the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving early child care and education.
As one of the top finalists, Drake will receive cash awards during a ceremony in April in Pennsylvania. She will be awarded $500 for personal use and another $500 to improve her classroom.
She also had a chance to compete for the Helene Marks Award, which would increase the grant from $500 to $1,000.
Drake, however, decided not to be a contender for the top award and will accept the $500 for herself and $500 for her classroom.
“She is just so busy with her own children and work,” said Johanna Hartnett, director of the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center.
As part of the application process, each applicant was asked to design an enhancement project for the children in their classroom illustrating the educational, social and emotional benefits from the project.
A foundation committee of early childhood educators and specialists reviewed the applications and selected 50 finalists nationwide.
Drake’s proposal was to help her 14 children, who are ages 3 and 4, learn about individual differences and cultural diversity by adding props and materials to the classroom’s dramatic play area, which is an place in the classroom with dress-up clothes, dolls and dishes for the children to play with.
“(The dramatic play area) lacks in a lot … as a teacher, I feel that children learn about different cultures through play,” she said. “I have noticed over the last several years the population of my center has grown more culturally diverse. My goal is to help my children learn about individual differences and cultural diversity.”
The types of props Drake wants to include in her classroom are traditional clothing from other cultures, dolls that look like children from around the world, books, posters, ethnic music and play food which will reflect meals from multiple cultures. Additionally, Drake wants to purchase dolls with disabilities to promote exposure of individual differences.
All of Drake’s students appreciate the interaction and attention she devotes to them each day.
Jacob Ruebush, a 3-year-old student, said his favorite thing about Drake is that she plays with him.
“I was gluing a penguin. She (Drake) was helping me, giving me more stuff,” Jacob said.
Four-year-old Annica Dong said she enjoys when Drake plays with her, especially dress-up.
When asked if she expected to be a finalist, Drake said, “No, I just figured there would be a lot of people asking for the things I did because of the same reasons — cultural differences coming into day cares.”
Hartnett said this is the first year the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center has participated in the award and the teachers drew straws to see which would apply for the award.
“All the teachers here are outstanding; anyone in the center is deserving of this award,” Hartnett said. “(Drake’s) strengths are connecting with the families so they all feel personally connected. She always seems very aware of the whole picture, what’s going on in the room. But also always sees the needs of the individual child. She makes them all feel important and values them.”
There are five different classrooms and a total of 67 children who attend the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center.
Drake is already trying to bring culturally diverse activities into her classroom with an annual celebration of the Chinese New Year and by asking parents to be involved in bringing their family backgrounds into the classroom. She hopes to do more.
“Diversity has grown so much over the years, I just want the children to be exposed to it,” Drake said. “This (money) is just the beginning of improving the center. I hope that we can receive many, many more grants so we can keep adding more props.”
According to its Web site, the foundation uses awards such as the National Child Care Teacher Awards, Child Care Center Enhancement Grants, conferences and scholarships to improve the quality of child care, support and elevate the status of child care teachers and providers, raise awareness of the need for affordable child care and make child care a national priority.




More taxpayers filing online

9 percent more tax returns filed online from 2006 to 2007, IRS says

Staff Reporter

With tax season already under way , many are rushing to file for early returns, just in different ways than in the past. Traditional paper filing seems to be fading with the growing technology and complex tax laws.
“Years ago for this two-week period we are in right now, it used to be that people were filling the waiting room. But then computers came along, and with more competitors the waiting room is not so full anymore,” said Sue Hollenbeck, a master tax advisor for the H&R Block office in the Riverside Plaza.
“If people know anything, they are going online and electronically filing,” Hollenbeck said. “It makes things easier.”
The number of electronically filed tax returns increased 9 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS processed approximately 135 million individual income tax returns in 2007, 79 million (58 percent) of which were filed electronically, while the other 56 million were paper returns, according to a November 2007 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The GOA attributes the increase in electronic filings to state mandates.
Thirteen states mandate electronic filing of state taxes, which has in turn increased the electronic filing of both state and federal tax returns. New York does not mandate electronic filing for state taxes.
“They would prefer it and people have to sign something that says they opted out of it, but they have yet to mandated it,” Hollenbeck said.
Electronic filing participation is higher among those people who use paid preparers, such H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, than for taxpayers who file their own tax returns, according to a 2006 annual report to Congress from the IRS Oversight Board.