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Chatom’s ‘Ms. Sunshine’ receives civility award
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Chatom Preschool paraeducator Kathy King plays in the sand with her students. She was awarded the Jane Johnston Civility Award by the Stanislaus County Office of Education on Jan. 14 (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Fifteen years ago, Kathy King volunteered in her daughter’s class at Chatom Preschool and quickly realized it was where she belonged. She went back to school, working hard in classes at Modesto Junior College so that she could work alongside students as a paraeducator.

Since then, King’s positive personality and genuine empathy for others has earned her a place in her colleagues’ hearts, and most recently, recognition during the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s “Employees Making a Difference” program as recipient of the third annual Jane Johnston Civility Award.

“I’m just very grateful and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more appreciated,” King said. “It went right to my heart.”

King was honored during a special reception on Jan. 14 for exemplifying the principles of civility both at work and in her personal life. King was one of 22 classified education employees from Stanislaus County honored for their outstanding contributions to their respective schools, but didn’t know she would be receiving the additional honor of the Jane Johnston award.

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Chatom Preschool paraeducator Kathy King — surrounded by her students — holds the Jane Johnston Civility Award (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Chatom Union School District Superintendent Cherise Olvera and Chatom State Preschool Director Sandra Nunes submitted letters to SCOE nominating King for the award.

In her letter, Olvera described King as “Ms. Sunshine,” and as the employee who is always eager to go above and beyond, whether it be supporting her coworkers outside of the classroom by sending them cards of encouragement or going to the thrift store while she’s off the clock to look for toys that the students would enjoy.

“It is difficult to select only four principles of civility to describe Kathy because she embodies so many of them,” Olvera said. “She is the employee that every department wants on their team.”

Nunes benefits from King’s help in the classroom every day, and said she deserved to be recognized for her outstanding service.

“Her pleasant and positive attitude makes her effortless to collaborate with,” Nunes said. “She shows that she cares about the children like one of her own and all the children enjoy having her around as well.”

While King was humbled and surprised to receive the civility award, what’s most important to her is that every child enjoys coming to school, she said. She does her best to make sure they do by planning hands-on activities that she knows they’ll enjoy, rather than what might be “standard” classroom learning. Play-Doh is a constant, and interactive playtime allows students to learn lifelong lessons like sharing, cleaning up and conversing with their classmates.

“I’ve found that if you figure out what they like, they’re so much more engaged than if you put out what we want and what we like,” King said. “Do what you want, be what you want, have fun and want to come to school. We want it to be a good experience so later on, we’ve set it up for them and they think school is fun and want to go.”

Former students of King’s still return to Chatom to say hello, she said, and she hopes they continue to do so for years to come. 

“When they come just to say hi and that they miss you, that’s what it’s all about,” she said.