Linda Norris of First Christian Academy in New Port Richey, center, received the Teacher Of the Year Award from the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties’ board of directors.

SPRING HILL — Pouring rain and high winds did not dampen attendance for the 2019 Early Learning Conference held by the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties.

For the conference’s 12th year, more than 300 came to the campus of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School, on Hays Road, to participate in a variety of breakout sessions held throughout the day covering issues from compassion to early training for emergencies.

“It takes a team of hard working, dedicated professionals to put an event together like this,” said Early Learning Coalition Executive Director Steve Knobl. “I thank them for their dedication in preparing this event.”

Those that attended were also able to network with professional colleagues, as well as to visit and talk with numerous educational vendors.

Knobl announced the Early Learning Coalition’s Teacher of the Year Award winner saying: “It’s important to recognize teachers for what they do. But you as early childhood educators – you are the most important teachers we have in our system. So, thank you.”

Linda Norris of First Christian Academy in New Port Richey, received the honor. Norris is working on her bachelor’s degree in special education and has spent 13 years as an educator.

“I love early childhood education,” Norris wrote in her application for the award. “I love getting up each day going to a job that I love and instill a love of learning in the most precious little people who bring so much joy into my life.”

Norris received a special gift basket from Discount School Supplies for her classroom as part of the award.

The Helen and John Long Scholarship, and its $500, was awarded to Samantha Taylor, a voluntary pre-kindergarten teacher at Wee Kids, in New Port Richey. Taylor is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

Two students at Marchman Technical College, in New Port Richey, Jordan Sizemore and Nicholas Suddath, received special recognition from the educators. The Marchman students designed logos for the Early Learning Coalition’s storybook and conference.

Educators heard a keynote address given by Gina Gates, a 20-year veteran of early childhood education who is client success manager for Teachstone. Her address emphasized the importance of teacher-student interactions.