This article appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the Erikson on Children newsletter, under the headline “Alumna wins Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award.” More from this issue

Achievement, like excellence, isn’t tied to a particular language or culture. Just ask Zio Perez, ’06.

“My mother was the first to tap into my strengths for reading and writing by teaching me Spanish,” says the preschool teacher. “It all comes from home.”

Zio Perez
Zio Perez

Raised on Chicago’s North Side by a Spanish-speaking single mother who had emigrated from Guatemala, Perez has made it her mission to convince parents—as well as fellow teachers—what her own experience taught her. It’s not what language is used at home, it’s that language is used.

“When a child sees his or her parent reading—a newspaper, a book, anything—it demonstrates to the child that reading is important, that it’s what adults do,” she says. “I would emulate my mother, reading everything she brought into the house. Then I would lock myself in the bathroom and pretend to be a TV reporter.” In grade school, she transferred those same habits to English-language learning.

Currently teaching at Nettelhorst School in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, Perez earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education before receiving a master’s in child development from Erikson. She has achieved National Board certification and is scheduled to receive a second master’s—this time in educational leadership—from the American College of Education this June.

A member of the editorial board of Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine that reports on urban schools, Perez also cofounded SwaziKids International, a 501(c)(3) that raises funds for school children in Swaziland.

In presenting the Kohl McCormick award, the committee cited these accomplishments as well as Perez’s dedication, innovation, leadership, respect for children and their families, and commitment to professional growth. She will be inducted into the Kohl McCormick Academy of Outstanding Educators at a luncheon on Tuesday, June 7, 2011, along with two other winners.

The Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards is the first awards program to formally recognize the contributions of teachers working with children from infancy through third grade. Now in its sixteenth year, the program has become a model for recognition of outstanding early childhood educators. The awards are sponsored by the McCormick Foundation and the Dolores Kohl Education Foundation.

Visit www.kohlmccormickawards.org to learn more about the awards program.