NORTHAMPTON, MA — Amid the piles of brightly colored building blocks, Barbara Black, 66, kneels comfortably among several 4- and 5-year-olds on the floor of a Bridge Street School classroom.
“What’s this one?” she asks each child, her seeing-eye dog, Ms. Pie, wagging its tail patiently at her side. “What are you making?”
For Black, this is what early childhood education is all about.
“It’s really being part of the world that wants to keep letting children play, because that’s how they learn,” said Black, the early childhood coordinator for Northampton Public Schools. “They need to experience the world.”
It is Black’s dedication to those principles — to improving education for young children and their families — that has made her the third annual Daily Hampshire Gazette “Person of the Year.”
Black and the winner of the Gazette’s inaugural Young Community Leader Award, Allison Jenks, will be honored Tuesday, April 25, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst.
Advocating for children
Black, who has spent some 45 years working as an early childhood educator, was chosen by a selection committee made up of United Way of Hampshire County staff and community members. Along with the award comes a $500 prize, half of which will be donated to a charity of Black’s choice.
“Children — especially young children — don’t speak up for themselves and say what they need,” she said sitting at her desk last Friday afternoon. “And so it’s our job as grown-ups to advocate for them.”