LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Jillian Zeilenga

Position: K-1 Teacher
School: East Montpelier Elementary School
School District: Washington County Unified Union School District
City, State: East Montpelier, VT

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Jillian Zeilenga was nominated by Darryl Garland, the parent of a student.

"Our bleary-eyed five-year-old peeked her head out of her bedroom door. 'I have a barred owl problem,' she informed us" said Garland. "Our first thought was, 'Oh, just go back to bed.' But it was quickly followed by, 'What Kindergartener can specify the call of one owl species over another?' Only one of Jillian Zeilenga's kindergarteners."

Mrs. Zeilenga, known by her students as "Mrs. Z," combines her love of learning with the visceral experience children can only experience outdoors. She created the E.C.O. (Educating Children Outdoors) program at East Montpelier Elementary School, which takes kids out of the four-walled classroom into the woods for half the day, even in Vermont winters. The lessons become as much a part of the students as the memories they grow through sharing fire roasted apples they made with each other and Mrs. Z.

In addition to being a memorable teacher, she is a great neighbor, volunteering with spirit at seemingly all after-school functions. She coaches Girls On The Run and girls basketball, showing dozens of girls their own power. On top of that, Mrs. Z has led the East Montpelier Harvest Festival, bringing the entire community to the school.

"The final straw that convinced me to nominate Jillian is the support and friendship she showed when she organized a meal train for one of her fellow teachers who had to have surgery after an accident," said Garland. "The ability to name owl calls or shoot a basketball may not show up on a former student's SATs, but the love and joy in learning they felt from Mrs. Z will echo through them and their community their whole lives."

Comments (70)

Melissa Purchase Posted over a year ago

Jillian has the biggest heart and I am so grateful that my daughter has the privilege of having her for a teacher. My child is very shy, deals with some anxiety and was unsure of what to expect for kindergarten. Before the start of the school year, Jillian visited our home, as well as homes of her other incoming students, and she allowed us to come visit her in the classroom. Her calm demeanor and approach quickly made my daughter feel comfortable and safe with her. It is very clear as I watch her with her students that she genuinely cares for each and every one and finds individual ways to make each one succeed. I'm confident that my daughter will always care about Mrs. Zeilenga and that Mrs. Zeilenga will continue to cheer her on for years to come. Thank you, Jillian, for all you do for her, your class, the school, our community and beyond. You are the best and so deserving of this award!

Matt Pelkey Posted over a year ago

Jillian not only changes the lives of children that are fortunate to have her as a teacher, but she also changes the lives of children across our district as a teacher leader and collaborative colleague. I am a Kindergarten teacher at another school in the same district as Jillian. Jillian has supported my practice by sharing ideas, resources, and inspiring me to try new things. I was inspired by Jillian to begin an outdoor education program (ECO) at my school. She remarked about how some children who struggle to find success in her classroom, thrive in the outdoor classroom. This has been true for many of my students since I started the program after being inspired by Jillian. She shares many ideas and resources to help me develop my practice as well. One time Jillian shared a idea that she implements with kids to start the year that helps them get familiar with the school. A few days later I received a package in the mail with a book and materials to support the idea sent from Jillian. Jillian's kindness, generosity, positivity, knowledge, and drive has impacted the lives of many in the state of Vermont.

Blaire Haggett Posted over a year ago

Jillian set the bar high for teachers in the state of Vermont. Lydia is 12 years old now, and still compares all teachers to how her kindergarten/first grade teacher made her feel and how she taught her. Jillian is engaged and makes kids from all walks of life feel important enough to thrive. Jillian goes above above and beyond for the kids in her care. Going to dance recitals, coaching, living as a role model, and being a strong woman. Jillian taught my daughter how to be independent, responsible and fair as well as a team player and how to care for others, even when you dont see eye to eye. How to be assertive yet kind and respectful. I hear similar stories and sentiments from other parents who have been blessed to have the honor of having kids in her classes. Jillian creates communities every where she is. I am honored Lydia had her education begin with such strong foundation.

Jamie O’Hare Posted over a year ago

Jillian is onee of the most energetic and positive people I have ever known. As a fellow early childhood educator in East Montpelier I have been awed by her ability to organize multiple school wide events calmly and efficiently. She can mobilize groups of people to engage in activities that might make some feel it was way out of their comfort zone. Only Jillian could convince a group of teachers to sing, dance and just have a great time on stage at the All School Talent show that she directed. Aside from coaching basketball, girls on the run, the Harvest Festival, The Monster Mash and now organizing the P.T.N.O., she is an amazing teacher who engages her students in the classroom and outdoors. Like I said, I am awed by her!

Angie Barger Posted over a year ago

I had the great honor of working with Jillian in her E.C.O. program for a couple of years and not a day passed that I thought, "Wow, she really honors the light in every child." This, in and of itself, is a life-changing movement coming from the grassroots of one human being. Jillian is a person who believes in the good of everyone, holds her students responsible for their actions and efforts, while integrating the crucial role of play in these 5-year old's days. She plays! What a lucky person to be in the midst of her concentric community rings of play and care, whether a student, team member, or neighbor. We are so lucky to have her teaching at our local public school!

Peter Clennett Posted over a year ago

I have been following Jillian posts for years. I may be a little biased as I am related to her but the things I have noticed through her posts is she is a great communicator, not afraid to ask for help and she takes action to help those in need in the community. I see the positive responses she gets from her requests. Jillian understands that it takes a community to raise a child. Even with all her dedication to the students and the community she still manages to make time for herself and her family.

Meg Falby Posted over a year ago

Jillian is a powerhouse teacher...mama...human!! I am blessed to know and work in the same district as such an incredible woman ???????????

Alicia Lyford Posted over a year ago

Jillian truly exemplifies what it means to be a life-changer! She is an exceptional and inspirational educator who brings her zest for life into our school community each and every day. She inspires our youngest students to create and imagine not only within her Kindergarten classroom but through our K-2 ECO program, which has been thriving for many years thanks to her diligence and commitment to getting our children outdoors to learn! Jillian's love for teaching goes well beyond her Kindergarten classroom; she has helped lead our student leadership team, coaches basketball to children of all ages, and is the lead coach for our Girls on the Run after-school program. In addition, Jillian has created numerous after-school opportunities for the East Montpelier community including the annual Harvest Festival, Monster Mash, and Talent Show to name a few. Jillian has a special way of drawing others in on the excitement of learning, and somehow makes it all look so easy! I cannot think of a better person for this very special life-changer recognition.

Ivy Z Posted over a year ago

Jillian was our daughter's K-1 teacher. The themes that emerge when I think about Jillian are excellent communication, committment, compassion, and continuity. Yes...Jilllian made learning incedibly fun and engaging as many previous fans have stated. Most importantly for me as a new mother of a school-aged child, Jillian let us know how Eliana was doing. Jillian continued to communicate with us as a family throughout her educational career. Jillian attended Eliana's 8th grade graduation and had all remaining classmates line up to re-create a kindergarten photo from years past. It is this kind of gesture that beatifully illustrates how Jillian continues to show up for students and families lucky enough to have been in her midst, even years after the official teaching had ended. I can also remember Jillian calling Eliana on the phone to inquire how her transition to 2nd grade was going after she left Union Elementary to teach at East Montpelier Elementary. Jillian Zeilenga is a treasure and certainly deserves the Life Changer Title!!

Alex Smart Posted over a year ago

Although I am currently a junior in high school, Ms. Zeilenga is one of the teachers who has made the biggest impact on me. When I was entering Kindergarten, I can still remember playing with the cool pink doll house in her classroom and being greeted by her warm smile. Whether she was spreading shaving cream on the tables or orchestrating Day of the Dark, she was the best teacher to have as my first teacher. Any event that has involved our class over the years, whether it was graduations or Girls on the Run, she has been there (even though she hasn't taught at our school in 10 years). I couldn't have asked for a better introduction into my school experience. The only thing I regret about having Ms. Zeilenga as my teacher is that she only taught for 2 years at our school, so my little brother couldn't have her as his teacher, too. Even though I can't remember many of the specifics of what I learned, it is obvious that I would not be able to read were it not for her. There's no better candidate than Jillian Zeilenga, and I wish her all the best!

Amy Butler Posted over a year ago

Teachers, and especially kindergarten teachers, are a very unique species of humans. I think most people brush off the notion of being a teacher for our youngest learners as just another job where you have the summers off. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Kindergarten teachers are kindergarten teachers because they believe in children and their families. They believe that love and learning go hand in hand. We can not learn with out love. Kindergarten teachers carry a magic wand that spreads love and they wear an invisible cape of courage and vulnerability. I am pretty sure Jillian Zeilinga invented both of these magical teaching tools (the wand and the cape!). She has spent 20 years crafting these tools, expanding her knowledge and skills in an ever changing landscape of education and strengthening her community through her passion of teaching and her love of children. I have had the honor of working alongside Mrs. Z for 8 years in the forest behind East Montpelier Elementary School. I am the Director of Education at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. I started working with Jillian in 2012, just as the ECO program was taking off in a few area schools. This was before the state of Vermont recognized the importance of nature based learning and the many benefits all learners gain from time immersed in outdoors. Jillian has been an integral part of developing and helping to ultimately spread the idea of teaching outdoors across our state. She quickly adopted and then expounded on a nature pedagogy for her teaching practice. Her students thrived in that first year,..and now 8 years later I know Jillian's dedication for teaching outdoors has effected the lives of 100's of children and their families. Time spent in nature is good for humans. It is essential. And a rich and diverse learning environment is a healthy place for a child to thrive. Jillian creates a home for her students like a forest. She is as fun as a pile of leaves to jump in. She honors and handles each child gently and celebrates their unique ways of growing. I believe that what Mrs. Zelinga is secretly doing, planting the strong strong seeds of maples across central Vermont through her commitment to the future of our youngest citizens. - Amy Butler

Sian Foulkes Posted over a year ago

In Vermont, where the towns are small and often don't have a proper center, the school can become the meeting place for community. In our town, Jillian is the heart of just such a community. Jillian is an incredible educator—teaching our children reading, writing, science, and social responsibility—all while laughing, dancing and running through the woods. She is an inspired community member—volunteering, raising money for a variety of causes, or just lending a hand to someone in need. But what I love about her most (besides her infectious smile) is the deeply involved role she plays in the lives of the girls in our community. She coaches girls to be their best selves, to help each other, and to commit to service. Whether the young woman is an aspiring and talented athlete or putting sneakers on for the first time, the playbook is the same: strive to better yourself, help others, believe in yourself. There is really no measure for the lives, young and old, that Jillian changes on a daily basis without doing much but brining her best self to the table.

Eyrich Stauffer Posted over a year ago

Jillian's energy, professionalism, heart, and her dedication to students and the community tow a whole crowd along with her to do more, join in, help out and have fun doing it. We have been lucky to have Jillian teach and coach our children and lucky to have her as a friend and neighbor. She leads others to grow, give and change. I can not think of anyone more deserving of such an award!

Hannah O’Nrien Posted over a year ago

Jillian is a one in a million teacher! Jillian is calm, cool, happy, dedicated, funny, motivated, energetic and whole heartedly invested in her students. We moved to East Montpelier the year my youngest entered Kindergarten. Jillian’s classroom was warm and interesting. Full of books and games and nature to explore! She is able to teach all the usual subjects but with gusto! She makes each kid feel like a super hero. She makes learning fun and can relate to and teach children so comfortably. She’s playful and loving. At every turn Jillian guides kids through their day, instilling in them the importance of being kind, respectful, helpful and caring. One of her many strong suits is her love of educating children outdoors! She takes them out every week to learn, explore and grow outside. She knows the importance of learning in the classroom and how many lovely opportunities there are outside of it. My child still adores Jillian, years later—Most people that meet her feel the same way! She changes lives every single day and our community is endlessly grateful that she’s changing the lives of our children!

Christin Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga was one of my kindergarten and first grade teachers. I loved being in her classroom as a kid and she made it so much fun. I still remember our entire class sleeping over outside at her house in tents in first grade. She's not only a great teacher, but she was my elementary basketball coach from kindergarten to 6th grade. She was the coach that taught me just about everything I know, and without her teaching me I would not be where I am today. And as I've gotten older, she's not only a great teacher, but a friend as well. She definitely deserves to win this award.

Kate Powell Posted over a year ago

This nomination couldn't be more well-deserved! I had the honor of meeting Jill nearly four years ago on the basketball court when I became lucky enough to join her team. Ever since, I have witnessed her serve as an inspiration and role-model to not only myself but also her teammates, students, community, friends, and family. She is a supportive and encouraging friend, dedicating herself to the betterment of those around her while balancing taking phenomenal care of herself and her family. I am grateful to have met Jill and look forward to seeing her continuing positive impact in the years to come.

Susan Koch Posted over a year ago

Jillian is an amazing educator because she always put the learners first! She is comfortable guiding learning both indoors and outdoors and has a magical way of engaging learners using fun, motivating strategies. Jillian is a tremendous asset to her school community, and jumps in to help whenever needed. I am so excited to see Jillian nominated for this well deserved award!

Kate Phelps Posted over a year ago

Jillian is one of a kind. We moved out of state over 2 years ago and we continue to compare new teachers to Mrs. Zeilenga (I know it’s not fair). She is the most authentic, devoted and energetic teacher. We will always feel so grateful that 2 of our kids got to spend time with her inside and outside the classroom. Jillian has true heart and she gives fully. We miss her!!!

Marion Anastasia Posted over a year ago

Yes, Jillian is a life changer! I was Jillian's principal at EMES when she approached me about her vision for an outdoor classroom and associated professional development. Her request was student driven, and supported by research! How can you disagree??? Through this endeavor, she provides opportunities for both traditional and non traditional learners. Her synergy and passion overflows to many of her colleagues at EMES; sharing the outdoor classroom, professional development, and traditional lessons. Jillian is a beloved teacher, learner, coach, friend, mother, and wife. Her unwavering patience, willingness to pitch in, and contagious smile are things I always remember and admire about Jillian! When I think back to my nearly 40 years in education, Jillian is a teacher that rises to the top! I was fortunate to work and learn with her!

Jillian Zeilenga Posted over a year ago

I would just like to thank you all for taking the time to make a comment on here. My heart is bursting. I am so lucky to live and work in such a supportive community.????

Ava Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga has been my favorite teacher. She helped me learn to write and help me make my best friend. She is always there for me, she even did my hair sometimes. She is the best, and many kids are lucky to have her as their teacher. I thank her for coming in early and helping me with reading and writing. I had Mrs. Zeilenga for two very fun years. In those two years we did lost of fun stuff like ECO, the bird unit, and many other things. I thank her for helping me get so far in school. Mrs. Zeilenga did the talent show with me and my friends for many years. She would take us shopping for outfits and made it so much fun. She made so many lifelong memories for me. Mrs. Zeilenga stuck with our basketball team for my entire time at EMES. She started with us on Sunday mornings in kindergarten coached us to our last 6th grade game. She taught me all I know about basketball and about how to play. Without her I would not be where I am today. Mrs. Zeilenga was the best coach she would always make practice so much fun, but we were still learning. We enjoyed the challenges she presented so much that we would work hard and try our best every time. An example is working on lay ups - we timed how long it took for the team to get 25 lay ups. We started at the begging of the year with about 2 minutes and ended the year with close to 45 seconds. I thank her for helping me with so many things and for being there for me.

Jordan Pryce Posted over a year ago

Yay Jilly!! I don’t think words could thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me and my family! Unfortunately I never had you as a teacher, I was one year to old:( I have been lucky enough to have you as a coach for basketball and GOTR, I have to say those days were the most positive, you have some type of way that makes everyone happy!! Not only have you been a coach and taught me skills, you have also been a friend! When you wake in a room you light it up. Thank you for all the times you have came to support me at sports events and everything else you have done for me! You’re the best Jilly!

Amanda Mislak Posted over a year ago

I feel we are all truly blessed that Mrs. JZ is in our lives!!! She somehow has perfected the perfect balance of being a strong, determined young(also at heart)woman, wife, mommy, teacher, coach, leader of ummm a lot of lucky humans, being able to have a fun, happy vibe with noticeable respect of all ages!! I'm so grateful to have her in our lives!!! My daughter Mollie had Mrs.Z in k-1st. I will never forget when she came home after her first day from school. "How was school today?" Mollie responded " Oh mommy it was awesome!! And you know what? I like you ALMOST as much as I like Mrs. Z!!" .... yup Im happy she loves her teacher but ouch hahaha Your the best Jillian truly!!!

Derek Pryce Posted over a year ago

As so many others have mentioned, the impact Jillian has had, and will continue to have, on our children, school, and community is hard to put into words. She is a fantastic teacher. She takes the time to really understand and relate to each kid. Because of that, she gets to know them and can help them academically, as well as socially in a way that I've not seen before. She is willing to go above and beyond her job duties to help in a way that makes the kids feel comfortable, as well as learn. I've had the privilege of coaching school basketball teams with her for a number of years. The professionalism she demonstrates in the classroom translates to the court as well. She teaches the skills they need to play, but more importantly she teaches how hard work pays off, how to be a team player, what it means to be part of a team and how to be respectful athlete. Many of these traits are not things that young athletes are taught, but I am thankful that she understands the importance, because it has made our kids better all around kids, whether playing a sport or not. There's no question about the positive impact she has had on my daughters early years, and I'm truly grateful for that. Our girls have moved on from elementary school, and I know they both miss seeing and visiting with Jill, but they know where to find her when they need something, or just want to visit with a friend. I am happy to call her a friend and am thankful for all she has done for us and our community. East Montpelier is a better place with Jillian here!

Greg Boyes Posted over a year ago

Jillian is an inspirational leader, who touches the lives of her students, colleagues and family. Her enthusiasm for life and positive nature allow her to connect with all types of people. She has a way of making people feel loved and supported. This is especially crucial for children who need it most in their lives. Jillian always has others best interest in mind and is selfless in her desire to help others. I find her to be an inspiration in my life and know she has that same effect in others, as well.

Christian B Posted over a year ago

Lucky enough to be part of one of Mrs. Z’s first classes ever, I’ve had the immense privilege of holding close and dear the memories of my kindergarten days a decade and a half later, a feat that would’ve been exponentially more difficult without Mrs. Z’s guidance. While at such an age it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the foreign tides of the adult world, I was still shell-shocked in 2005 when my family splintered and moved across the country to be with my grandmother in the wake of hardship. Later, my father and I would return home briefly sans my mother and siblings, and I began elementary school that fall. I don’t remember much of that time, but I do recall one afternoon when the rest of the class had left for recess or lunch, and I had stayed behind, overcome with tears from missing the rest of my family. Mrs. Z avoided the classic ‘don’t cry’ response in her heartfelt consolation in that empty kindergarten classroom. She instead opted for a hug and the words ‘it’s okay to be sad.’ That day aided my abilities to trust, grieve, and care in the true human experience. Mrs. Z needed for me to genuinely succeed and grow, and when I find her occasionally back in my hometown at a musical or soccer game, the candor of her vision and kindness today reminds me to be humble and to leave marks as she does. Keep going, Mrs. Z! There are so many more who still need you!

Avery Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Z is one of the most selfless, kind, thoughtful, and supportive people I have ever met. She understands everyone. You name a positive personality, that describes Mrs. Z. These adjectives I just listed really stood out to me in third grade when she was my basketball coach. The day after a game I came to my cubby and found a very thoughtfully written note from her about the game and about me. It turns out everyone on the basketball team got one specific to them. I thought that was so nice of her to do that. Not every basketball coach would spend time to do that. This is only one example of the awesomeness that Mrs. Zeilenga puts out to the world. From her hugs and smiles to her dancing across the Girls on the Run 5k finish line with me. (And yes, that happened.) I think she should win this award for being the amazing human being she is.

Jimmy Warden Posted over a year ago

I worked with Jillian during my time as a student teacher at Norwich University. I learned a lot from her about how to be a great teacher. The most important thing I learned from her is how to make learning “experiences” come to life. With her ECO program, she has done just that for so many students, parents, and teachers like myself. Her passion for education and making a difference is second to none. I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Jillian based on her dedication and innovation to make school a place where kids want to be.

Rachael Richards Posted over a year ago

We met Jillian when she started her tenure with EMES, as she was our son’s 1st grade teacher. She quickly became one of his (and our) favorite teachers. Jillian’s engagement and energy with her students was apparent right away. Beyond the classroom, she is an active member of our community, supporting and organizing community events, and maintains relationships with past students. Both of our sons play golf, and a couple of times she has taken time during her summer vacation to take the boys golfing. Just to catch up and connect. You will often see her in the stands at a basketball game, supporting all the kids that have passed through he classroom, even if they have moved on to high school. She is that teacher that as a parent you feel lucky to have your kids get- the coach, teacher, mentor and supporter. So proud to know her!

Jill Koger Posted over a year ago

I am continually impressed and in awe of Mrs. Jillian Zeilinga. She is one of those people who seem to have 36 hours in their day. She does it all and then some. And she does it so very well! My son Levi had her and Lisa Gariboldi for just half a year in kindergarten and boy did he thrive! My girls have also been involved in her GOTR program. It seems that most everything she touches turns to gold. Not only is she a wonderful mother to two boys and a full time teacher, she is always volunteering her time in meaningful ways, supporting her students in some fashion, running a marathon....the list goes on. I am grateful that my children have been part of her programs. She most certainly makes learning fun!! Our community is lucky to have her.

Tonia Pryce Posted over a year ago

Jillian is truly one of the kindest persons I know. She loves all her students and our community. Jillian goes above and beyond just teaching. She coaches, she’s a mentor, and the best role model. She has the ability to see the best in everything. My daughter had her for kindergarden and first grade. When my daughter was struggling to learn to read, Jillian would come in before school to give her extra help. I don’t think there is a teacher more deserving than Jillian to receive this award.

Matt Greenberg Posted over a year ago

By some odd alignment of the stars I have managed to get 3 children through the East Montpelier Elementary School without a single one of them in Jillian Zeilinga's classroom. Despite this we all know her and have been affected positively. Jillian is a Rockstar teacher who goes out of her way for her students. More so though, she is an incredible asset to the community at large. Last spring Jillian wanted to make a pollinator garden to incorporate into her science lessons. She reached out to the community for assistance. I love gardening and was excited to share my passion. With a lot of planning and elbow grease on he part we planted a garden with perennials and annuals that appeal to the local pollinators. During the planting it was apparent that she had used this opportunity to discuss the composition of soil, the importance of pollinators, and all about plants and flowers. I don't think I have met group kindergartners so well versed in gardening and environmental sciences. I was so impressed. This is exactly how teaching should be. Beyond her own classroom Jillian has been the driving force for so many extracurricular activities including ECO, the Harvest festival, and the talent show. Outside of school I happen to attend the same gym that she does. I have seen her interact with and support her cross fit community with similar passion and cheer that she brings to teaching. It is an understatement to say that Jillian is a "Life Changer" It is my honor and pleasure to support her here.

Tonia Pryce Posted over a year ago

Jillian is truly one of the kindest persons I know. She loves all her students and our community. Jillian goes above and beyond just teaching. She coaches, she’s a mentor, and the best role model. She has the ability to see the best in everything. My daughter had her for kindergarten and first grade. When my daughter was struggling to learn to read, Jillian would come in before school to give her extra help. I don’t think there is a teacher more deserving than Jillian to receive this award.

Darci Coleman-Graves Posted over a year ago

What else can be said about this lady? She brings so much to the school and community that its hard to put into words. So instead I'll steal the lyrics of a song she brought into our lives. She is our very own Space Unicorn. Space Unicorn by Parry Gripp "Space unicorn Soaring through the stars Delivering the rainbows all around the world Space unicorn Shining in the night Smiles and hugs forever All around the world So pure of heart And strong of mind.........." Thank you Jillian for everything you do for our kids, school and community.

Lisa Gariboldi Posted over a year ago

Jillian is the whole package. She is an amazing teacher, friend and coach. My children were lucky enough to have her as either a teacher or coach and both experiences were nothing short of stellar! They flourished as athletes and students with Jillian’s positive energy and inspiring personality. She always brought out the best in them. She has a fun competitive edge to her that can be so influential in the best way possible! We just love Jill! I actually have been her Kindergarten team teacher for the past few years and I can tell you that her energy, creativity and commitment to teaching goes above and beyond any expectation. She is so incredibly knowledgeable and eager to share her best practices. She builds an amazing, caring, positive community with her students, families and colleagues. I have appreciated her support and friendship over the years. She is truly the best!!

Matt Greenberg Posted over a year ago

Somehow I managed to get 3 kids through the East Montpelier Elementary School without a single one haveing Mrs. Z. Despite that she has touched all their lives and has been so much more to the greater community at large. Last spring I had the opportunity to work with Jillian in creating a pollinator garden for her Kindergarten class. I very much enjoy gardening and jumped at the chance to share my interest. With her planning and a great deal of elbow grease and prep on her part we were able to allow the kids in her class to get dirty and plant a garden. We discussed the dirt and the flowers and the types of insects we hoped to attract. This is how teaching should be. Beyond teaching Jillian is the driving force for numerous after school special activities including the Harvest Festival and the Talent show. Outside of school I happen to share a gym with Jillian and see her dedication to her cross fit community and all that they support. Across our community I know numerous families and individuals that have been touched by her smile and dedication. Without doubt Jillian is a changer of many lives. We are all better for her presence in our community.

Jude Pittinger Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga has always been in my eyes one of the best teachers I ever had. Everyone looks back at Kindergarten with rose colored glasses but I have an extra reason to do so; Mrs. Zeilenga made that year genuinely enjoyable and unforgettable even to this day. She taught me how to tell stories, play computer games, and share my interests with my classmates and with the world. She truly made learning fun for our developing minds and her smile is the most genuine you will ever see! Thank you for everything Mrs. Zeilenga.

Shannon Wilson Posted over a year ago

I vote for Jill! She is a tireless champion of kids everywhere and particularly in our community. I don't believe any student, parent, or co-worker with whom she has interacted will ever forget her. She has shown us all first hand what it means to be compassionate, positive, and our very best selves. She deserves this award!

Courtney Stout Posted over a year ago

My first experience as the parent of a Kindergartner was with Ms. Z. My son had some social issues in the class that she dealt with in a calm, steady manner even as I freaked out. She's a shining member of the community, leading meal trains, coaching basketball and empowering girls through her work with girls on the run. For those things alone she deserves national recognition, but what I think impacted our lives and our son's life the most was his experience with the E.C.O program where all kindergartners spend one half of one day a week outside. If it's raining, we sent in rain pants and dry clothes. Snowing, snow pants and extra socks. If it was above zero, they were going out. They built fires to keep warm, made structures out of found objects in nature and gained confidence, a sense of community and most importantly a reverence for nature and being outdoors that cannot be taught in the classroom. Now that we've left Vermont and my younger son has started kindergarten in a different state, what grieved me the most is that he would miss this experience. Where we live now, I have no complaints about his teacher or his academic curriculum, but his class rarely spends time outside except for recess where they play on a blacktop with a playground in the middle. We don't lack for natural resources with a park next to the school and a forest preserve a few blocks away, but the school simply does not prioritize an outdoor education. Ms. Z managed to get kids truly excited about being outside. Importantly, she balanced this with a classroom curriculum that utilized technology and modern teaching tools that were not commonly used, even raising money herself to buy "boogie boards" for kids to use in the classroom for writing practice. Vermont can be a technology adverse community, but she pushed forward to give her students the experience of working with more advanced tools. In a world where our children must learn to respect and revere their natural environment to preserve our planet while working with tools and technology that may seem to drive them inside, Ms. Z sets a foundation for a well balanced lifestyle. I know my son as well as my whole family is better for it because we can take those lessons with us wherever we go. I highly support Ms. Z for this nomination and hope that she has a chance to share her curriculum nationally.

Spencer Pryce Posted over a year ago

Jillian is amazing. She creates and nourishes a fun and energetic learning environment both in the classroom and out. Her love for our community and our kids is inspiring and contagious. When you're in our school the positive attitude, compassion and kindness you see and feel, have and awful lot to do with Jillian.

Deborah Glottmann Posted over a year ago

She brings parents peace and children courage.

Charity L MacDonald Posted over a year ago

Mrs, Z was one of the first people we met when we moved to Vermont. Our son, Chamberlain, was greeted with the biggest welcome smile, energy and enthusiasm. Typically this would be what you expect from a teacher of preschool and Kindergarten but this time for us it was different. You see, Mrs. Z was faced with the challenge of incorporating our son into her classroom. Lain, as we call him, is a child diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, he is non-verbal and primarily uses a wheelchair. At the time he also had seizure disorder and faced many surgeries during his young years. Mrs. Z was not fazed at all. She scooped him up, adapted her classroom to incorporate all of the children attending her class. She made learning fun, and every child entered her classroom with the same energy and enthusiasm she poses. She saw children, not diagnoses or differences. Everyone matters in her classroom. Over the years I have kept in touch with Jillian through face book and visits to Vermont. Her excitement of teaching has remained strong. I love to watch for her post to see what interesting things she is doing and to see the smiles on the faces of all of her children. It has been many years since we lived in Vermont. Our son is now 18 and a recent Graduate of Groton-Dunstable High School. There is no doubt that the foundation Jillian laid allowed Lain to grow into the compassionate, strong, and adventurous student he is today. The passion and committment Jillian puts into her every day job is unmatched. I cannot imagine her ever going to "work", she just continues her lifelong journey of adventure. Jillian impacts, inspires and educates children to be strong, to love each other and the world around them. I am not surprised she was nominated for this award. She is not a life changer, she is a changer of all lives. She is the best!

Vicki Culver Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Z is an amazing teacher. All 3 of my kids had her and loved her. She truly loves her students and wants the best for them. She makes school fun for them. My daughter loved playing basketball when she was the coach.

Tawnya Kristen Posted over a year ago

There are certain people that you are lucky to share some lifetime with. One such person is Jillian. She is a friend, a teacher, a mother, a wife and most important, she is the most dedicated champion and supporter of all who have the smallest of voices but the truest promise of what we can be as people. My friend Jillian is the caretaker of our children and for that she is a life changer each and every day. Thank you Jillian for all you are and give. You are my (s)hero.

Anika Thiemann Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga was my first grade elementary school teacher. She has had a big impact on the person I’ve become. She inspired my passion of writing and gave me amazing opportunities. To this day, she is in my heart as one of my favorite teachers. She is an amazing teacher, and person, and I’m grateful to have been her student.

Linda Urban Posted over a year ago

Jillian sees people. Kids. Parents. She truly sees them for who they are and who they most want to be. My son was in her class and he's a pretty smart kid. Jillian recognized that and gave him the tools and latitude to explore his own interests -- a hallmark of a great teacher, for sure. But at the end of the year, when she gifted him a framed photo of the two of them together, it was his kind heart and his gentle spirit that she honored in the inscription on the back. THAT is what made him feel seen. (Yes, he still has the photo.) My daughter was in older grades when Jillian came to the school, but Jillian saw her, too. When her peer group was not exactly at its best, Jillian found ways to help my daughter see her own gifts and strengths, inviting her to the kindergarten to help with the little kids and to use her art skills to make posters for a school dance. These may seem like little things. To my kids, they were monumental. And what's more, my kids were not unique in this attention. Jillian makes ALL kids feel seen. She gives them all a chance to shine. She sees when parents seem stressed, too. Or worried. Or even joyous. She asks why. She joins in celebrations. She brainstorms solutions. She offers hugs. She sees who you are and who you want to be. And she helps you get there. I hope Jillian wins this award, not only because she deserves it, but because this is the sort of generous way of living we are all capable of, but often fall short of. To honor Jillian in this way would be to remind us all of what is possible when we open our eyes and hearts to each other.

Maia Pasco Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilinga was my basketball and GOTR coach. She was also a very popular teacher at my elementary school. I remember if you wanted to have lunch with her you had to sign up early in the morning because there were so many people in line. As a coach she would always encourage us to do the best that we could. Sadly I never had her as a teacher but a lot of my classmates did. I remember them all talking about the fun field trips and projects she did with them. I think that we definitely deserves to win this award.

Karen Vatz Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga played a huge role in helping our daughter transition to EMES from another school several years ago, making her feel welcome and celebrating her successes. She is a positive role model for all our kids. She is a fantastic coach, teacher, and mentor.

Maia Pasco Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilinga was my basketball and GOTR coach. She was also a very popular teacher at my elementary school. I remember if you wanted to have lunch with her you had to sign up early in the morning because there were so many people in line. As a coach she would always encourage us to do the best that we could. Sadly I never had her as a teacher but a lot of my classmates did. I remember them all talking about the fun field trips and projects she did with them. I think that we definitely deserves to win this award.

Kim Brown Posted over a year ago

I don’t think there are enough really great or fantastic words in the world to describe Jillian. But being a parent who’s son benefitted immensely from being in her classroom, I am forever grateful for the love, support and lifelong skills she helped create and foster. She could see in him his natural love for writing and she encouraged him to keep putting that pencil to paper, even letting him skip recess and stay in with her to write. She had an amazing way to draw in his attention and make learning hands on, fun and accessible to all. Basketball was an easy way for them to bond as she was the coach for my older daughter Averie and Zach was a young hopeful player just waiting for the time he could dribble that ball like his sister and make Mrs. Z proud just like his sister before him. Sports became a daily conversation between the two, well beyond Zach’s first grade year. I think when children can grow older and continue to seek out that very special teacher over and over it speaks volumes. It’s a genuine trust that you don’t always find along the way. This is my son with Mrs. Z to this day...She is an incredible human being and her genuine caring nature, positive and happy demeanor and the countless contributions she has made to her students, our entire community and to those of us lucky enough to call her a friend, are simply immeasurable. Today as one of her coworkers, I have had the pleasure of working part time in her classroom. I can tell you those 17 very fortunate Kindergarteners will be the next round of extremely supported, happy and exuberant learners just like the many years of students that came before them. If you could measure their success just in the smiles each day, I assure you these kiddos will be ready to take on the many years of learning to come and Mrs. Z will be right behind them with a big smile!

Melinda Laquerre Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Z is the best person in the world! You never have a dull moment when you are around her. She is my all time favorite basketball coach! We laugh, work hard, cheer each other on and become a family when we play for Mrs. Z. She has brought so much positivity into my life and still to this day I see her at my basketball games cheering us on. Thank you for everything you have done for me!

Dan Winters Posted over a year ago

I concur with this nomination and count myself as a parents who's child has been positively influenced by Jillian.

Tegan Posted over a year ago

I never got to have Mrs. Z as a teacher, which was a big disappointment. Some of my friends had her, and they always bragged about how awesome their class was. Even though she never taught me in a classroom, she was the best basketball coach I’ve ever had! She also coached Girls on the Run while I was there. She was the most supportive, encouraging, and competitive coach which made participating in these sports so fun! During these sports, she made every kid feel more confident and always look forward to practice, where they would be welcomed and accepted by everyone. Girls On The Run was one of the highlights of my time at EMES because of Mrs. Z’s contagious positive attitude. Jill will even come to some U32 games, cheering us on, and continuing to support all of her previous students as they go through middle and high school.

Lizzy Wilson Posted over a year ago

Jill has always been an amazing teacher and coach, which has lead to her being a very close family friend. I had her as a coach for GOTR, and she always knew how to keep everyone enthusiastic, while teaching us about being healthy, making friends, and taking care of others, and making it fun too. Jill and my sister, Clara, had a very close relationship through school and basketball, which branched out into my whole family. We all love Jill because she has always been a kind, funny, caring, energetic, motivated face in the crowd.

Aleah Goodrich Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilenga is an incredible teacher and person in general. Her smile can brighten someone's day in a second. She is always trying to find news ways for kids to have fun in school. If it wasn't for her ongoing encouragement I would not have joined her basketball team last year, I am very grateful that she didn't quite asking me until I joined not only is Mrs. Zeilinga an amazing teacher/basketball coach she is an amazing friend.

Maia Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Zeilinga was the best basketball and GOTR coach I ever had. I remember at EMES if you wanted to eat with her at lunch you had to schedule it early because there were always lot's of people who wanted to eat with her. A huge memory I have of our basketball team was when we won 3 trophies thanks to her awesome coaching. As a coach she always encouraged and supported us no matter what. She also organized a lot of the really fun things that happened at EMES like the talent show, winter basketball and many other things. She is an awesome person and definitely deserves this award. ?????

Judy Fitch Robert Posted over a year ago

Jillian started her career as an educator at Turtle Island Day Care Center. Each morning I dropped off my son Luca as young as 6 months old until he was in kindergarten. Jillian met us at the door, and many days the separation anxiety was extreme...Luca bonded with Jillian and she became his second Mom. She provided love, security, stability, fun, creativity, hours outdoors discovering every bug and plant and animal. She was a master photographer and gave each parent a thick notebook of personalized photos with captions and art, quotes and memories. We will cherish this forever, and cherish the invaluable, unmeasurable gifts that have truly changed our lives. Jillian is a gem who shines and shines!

Amber Posted over a year ago

way to go, Jillian! xo

Edith Lane Posted over a year ago

Mrs Zeilenga was my coach for basketball and GOTR. She taught me how to have be confident and to show the truest parts of me. But she is so much more than that. She brings the EMES and East Montpellier community together by organize fun events. She greets everyone in the hallway each morning. She shows live and support to anybody who enters the school building. I can’t imagine East Monpelier without this strong, inspirational woman in it.

Jen Busconi Posted over a year ago

At my son’s 6th grade graduation in June, he spoke about his Kindagarden and First grade teacher, Mrs. Zeilenga. He and another classmate shared some memories. One such memory my son shared said, ‘One of the best memories I have of Mrs. Zeilenga was when she took us all to her house to spend the night. I had no where to sleep as the other tents were full but Mrs. Zeilenga said I could stay in her tent with another student. This made me feel so much better.’ That memory is a perfect example of how Jillian supported her students. She made him feel included; cared for; never left out. Jillian provides the kids of East Montpelier Elementary so many opportunities to express themselves. Wether it is through her projects in the classroom, or in her coaching skills on a basketball court, or through her organization of a yearly school wide talent show, she meets kids at their level and helps them to grow beyond . Jillian reaches so many kids. She reached my kid. She reached us as his parents. Her energy is truly amazing, Jillian mentored my son the entire time he attended East Montpelier Elementary, giving up her lunch time or planning time to spend time with him. Jillian assisted him in being more open minded and working through his emotions. She also understood his sense of humor!! Over the years, Jillian became one of his biggest and one of his loudest, supporters.

Kacie Posted over a year ago

As I’ve said all along, Jillian doesn’t just teach children, she creates memories. As a former co-worker of Jillian’s, I can tell you my life sure was changed because of her. Jillian showed me how to be a better mom (“don’t worry till you have something to worry about”), a better teacher (“it’s not what he’s saying, you have to translate what he’s feeling”), and a better person- I don’t have a quote for this one but Jillian could write a book on healthy eating, working out and how to be an amazing friend. I don’t just vote for I say, “Absolutely ” for Jillian for Life Changer of the Year!!!

Hilary Paquet Posted over a year ago

Jillian Zeilinga is simply an amazing educator. She is creative and kind. She inspires even the most reluctant learner to work hard and try their very best each day. Mrs. Zeilinga’s dedication to her students is not limited to the school day, or even the school year. This summer Mrs. Zeilinga volunteered her time to help my son, a reluctant reader, maintain the amazing reading progress he had made during the year in her class. Our family is forever grateful to Jillian for the learning experiences she has given our children.

Luca Montore Posted over a year ago

Jillian was a teacher of mine in my very early days as a learner. Before I went off into the public school program and eventually off to college she taught me many things that have been the most valued lessons of my life. She strengthened my creativity, my motivation to learn and showed me how to treat others through example. My mom and I have always wondered what pushed me in the right direction when it comes to academics and full-heartedly believe Jillian is a major reason for my many successes. As I further my education in college with a goal of getting a masters degree in neuroscience I think back to my first days as a learner with Jillian and am so grateful for all she has done for me. Jillian was much more than a teacher to me. She is an incredible friend and the first person I have ever considered a mentor. I believe Jillian deserves this award because of all the time and love she has for her students and the positive impact she has had on my life and so many others.

Zachary Brown Posted over a year ago

Mrs Zeilenga was my kindergarten and first grade teacher and made those days some of the most memorable.She was able to get the whole class to have fun but learn as well, She is very unique crafty and is a great teacher. To this day Mrs. Zeilenga and I are still very close and this shows that her teaching goes beyond school and creates great relationships.

Riley Richards Posted over a year ago

Mrs Z was my first grade teacher and I was her first class. Favorite Teacher no question. I am very close to her to this day. She impacted me in many ways by teaching me a lot about basketball showing me to be confident and she made learning fun. We have had lots of competitions since I have met her because we are very competitive.

Julie Vogel Posted over a year ago

Mrs Z goes the extra mile for her students. She is always so positive and makes herself available to help her students both in and out of the classroom. If she is not coaching a sport then she is helping her students plan for a talent show or preparing for “Girls on the run”. She’s awesome!

Clara Posted over a year ago

Mrs Z is not only a great teacher, but also is an amazing basketball coach. She coached our girl school basketball team from kindergarten to 6th grade. She is a fun, nice, and caring person. She taught me to play basketball, and is very supportive. She always finds a way to make you laugh too. She is an amazing teacher and is most kids favorite teacher from our school. She is an overall great person.

Claire Posted over a year ago

Jilly! The greatest basketball coach I’ve ever had, the greatest Mom, the greatest teacher, and the greatest friend. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and my family. We love you more than you’ll ever know. p.s. she makes the best peanut butter chocolate pie

Kathy Christy Posted over a year ago

Such a well deserved nomination. Jillian shines through in everything she does for students, our school and her community. She clearly puts kids first and creates amazing memorable experiences that stay with kids forever.

Jack Zeilenga Posted over a year ago

I think it's fair to say I'm biased, being her husband and all, but she did also teach our youngest for two years so I come at this as a parent as well. Jill's passion, dedication and impact on the children in our community never ceases to amaze and inspire me. I see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes - preparing for the lessons to be carried out the next day at school, preparing to coach to ensure a successful practice or game, planning and organizing events of various shapes and sizes - with a goal to help enrich and expand the experiences of our children and sometimes the community as a whole. What I, like so many others in the community, also get to see on the other end of that is what an impact it has on our kids. They come away with so much more than just academics in the classroom in their experiences having Jill as a teacher or coach or mentor. They gain confidence, learn compassion and empathy, work ethic and teamwork, an appreciation for nature and the woods and the pleasure you can draw from it, and many other skills that will serve them well beyond their academic years. I cannot think of a more fitting person to receive such an award.