By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published April 14, 2016
ATLANTA—Jaroslava Patak, known as “Ms. Jerry” to her students at Our Lady of the Assumption Church preschool, is the 2016 Distinguished Teacher of the Year of the Georgia Preschool Association.
Patak received the award at the association’s annual meeting Feb. 26 at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta. She has served on the OLA preschool staff since its doors opened in 2005 and in other classrooms prior to that.
“It’s not my thing. It’s God’s reward,” said Patak about the recognition. “I love the kids.”
A native of the Czech Republic, Patak and her husband, Frank, owned a successful restaurant for many years. She later worked for St. Vincent de Paul before joining the preschool staff.
Debbie Kehoe, preschool director, said the Pataks were responsible for planting the preschool garden several years ago. They have a vegetable and herb garden at their own home.
“They work very hard most weekends to help maintain the garden and find new ways for the children to participate,” said Kehoe.
Patak uses the school garden to teach the children about plants and how to care for them.
“The children like it very much,” she said. “We enjoy to be outside.” For Easter, they decorated a small tree with colorful plastic eggs.
Patak teaches the 3-year-olds and also enjoys helping with Lunch Bunch, a program that takes place following the school day. Playground time is a favorite part of her day.
“She lives the faith in every moment”
Kehoe said Patak is the most selfless person she has ever met and is the heart and soul of the preschool.
“Ms. Jerry is the greatest living example of unconditional love. She lives the faith in every moment of every day,” wrote Kehoe in an email. “The entire staff relies on her for spiritual direction and our daily dose of happiness. The children in our school are blessed by the example Ms. Jerry sets. We hope that she will remain with us for many years to come.”
Patak received a page of honor in the conference program. The nonprofit association represents 1,650 members, both individuals and groups. The organization works to promote quality care and education for children ages 8 and younger by offering training programs and legislative advocacy.
School directors, parents or other teachers make the nominations for the Distinguished Teacher Award.
“I nominated Ms. Jerry after observing her dedication, enthusiasm and love of the children for the last 13 years,” said Terry Lynne Graham, director of parish preschools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “Criteria would be doing over and above what is required to enhance early childhood education; also doing something innovative, like creating the garden and teaching children about plants and the beauty of God’s earth.”
Patak and her husband, who have a daughter and two grandchildren, recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary. They are active members of Our Lady of the Assumption Church, serving as ushers and assisting with Lenten fish fry dinners. She was the parish Woman of the Year in 2015.
She said her beloved coworkers and students and their daily hugs propel her onward.
“I love OLA and our preschool,” she said. “It makes me keep going.”