As Debbie Frohmuth’s preschool students settled into circle time, they brought their problems to her, and she showed them they already knew how to solve them.
One boy told Frohmuth he didn’t want to sit next to one of his classmates. She asked him what he could do about that.
“Pick somewhere else,” he answered, finding a new seat on the rug.
Claire Davis, 4, piped up that she needed a tissue.
“What are you going to do?” Frohmuth asked.
“Get one,” Claire answered promptly, getting up to help herself.
Helping young children resolve their problems is one of Frohmuth’s stellar qualities as a preschool teacher, said Jeanette Tashiro, the director of the Child Development Center at Glendale Community College where Frohmuth teaches.
And Frohmuth’s top-notch teaching is now being recognized by the larger community.
On Friday, she was named Preschool Teacher of the Year, one of six such awards given to preschool teachers in the county by Los Angeles Universal Preschool, a nonprofit organization that seeks to make preschool universally accessible to all 4-year-olds in Los Angeles County.
The organization intended to honor five preschool teachers, one from each supervisorial district in the county, said Terry Kanakri, communications manager, Los Angeles Universal Preschool. But two teachers received tie scores in Supervisor Yvonne Burke’s district, so six educators will receive the award.
It is the first time the organization, which was formed in 2004, has given out the awards, which are designed to recognize model preschool teachers for their important work, according to the organization.
“We were looking for teachers that have made a difference in the lives of children every day in the teaching and learning environment,” said Celia Ayala, chief operating officer of Los Angeles Universal Preschool.
Recognizing preschool teachers is important because they help lay the foundation for students’ future success in school by working with children to develop socially, emotionally and academically, Ayala said.
Two people nominated Frohmuth for the award: Tashiro and Chris Davis, a parent who has had three children in Frohmuth’s class.
“I think she’s just such a great role model for the other early-childhood educators,” Tashiro said.
A panel of judges evaluated the nominations, looking for characteristics like teaching with enthusiasm, creating innovative lessons and encouraging positive relationships between the school and the community, officials said.
Frohmuth, who has taught at the child development center since it opened in 1990, and who has been a teacher since 1977, said that winning the award is a high honor for her.
“I’m very proud and very pleased,” she said.
Frohmuth encourages students to think for themselves about what they should do when they encounter a problem. If they’re at a loss, she offers several options as solutions and has them choose one.
“I want them to learn problem-solving skills and social skills,” Frohmuth said.
In Frohmuth’s classroom, students are introduced to artistic greats like Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh through activities that young children can grasp.
On Thursday, students posed at a makeshift ballet barre like Degas’ ballet dancers while their classmates sketched them.
Earlier this year, students painted their own version of “Starry Nights,” with Van Gogh’s version for inspiration.
The creative activities Frohmuth plans helped foster Davis’ daughter Miranda’s interest in art when she was younger, she said.
She is also a first-rate mentor, said Barbara Lineaweaver, who worked in Frohmuth’s classroom while studying child development at the college.
“She was instrumental in how I teach my class now,” said Lineaweaver, who is now a preschool teacher in La Cañada Flintridge.
For Frohmuth, enjoying one’s work is important, and she enjoys hers.
“I get a lot of joy from being here,” she said.
The awardees will be honored at a ceremony Tuesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angelahokanson@ latimes.com.