Lu Lewis was a kindergarten teacher at Dupont Elementary and Supervisor of Early Childhood for Chattanooga Public Schools. Her philosophy of education was to provide a setting that will ignite curiosity and create excitement for the learning process. She sought to have a creative, nurturing classroom full of learning experiences for every child who entered the door. She believed that her classroom was a “magic place” when filled with children. All concepts were provided in fun, exciting hands-on learning experiences for children.

The Lu Lewis Early Childhood Teacher Award is to be given to an outstanding teacher of young children ages birth through eight years of age. This award is open to CAAEYC members, or any other teacher who may fit the following criteria:

  • Nominee must implement developmentally appropriate practice.
  • Nominee must have taught a minimum of 5 years in an approved, licensed program.
  • Nominee must demonstrate ongoing professional development (CAAEYC Conference, TECTA, CCRR Traniings, Higher Education).
  • Nominee’s agency that he/she works for must be in the CAAEYC service area (Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie).


1998     Sue Creason

1999     Mary Stechman

2006     Teresa Gambrell

2008     Cherry Durm

2013     Barbara Murphy 


2013     Cindy Dearing


Hilda Avant was the first supervisor of early childhood in the Chattanooga Public School system. Through her work with principals and teachers she defined the kindergarten program. Her primary focus was on the child. She nurtured and encouraged teachers, helping them to become advocates for hands-on learning experiences, parent involvement and the kinds of appropriate early childhood practice we know today.

The award recipient must meet the following criteria:

  • Residence: The award winner must be employed within the CAAEYC service area (Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie)
  • Ethics: The award winner must be a person who has given evidence of the highest standard of conduct and ethics in his or her profession, whether that be in early childhood education, child development, or another field.
  • Service: The award winner must have performed a current outstanding service or contributions for young children that can be objectively described.

CAAEYC membership is not required to be nominated for this award. 


1983     Hilda Avant

2013     Vicky Flessner
            Former Director, HPUMP (1991-2014)

2015     Jenette Dean
            Current Director, HPUMP


Marguerite Hullander was an elementary teacher for 36 years. She then became the Director of Ridgedale Baptist Child Care Center. In addition, she created and was the first Coordinator of the Child Care Resource and Referral Center. Marguerite believed that “Children are like plants; they need water and nurturing to grow. The same is true of providers. They need training to grow”. She believed that directors need to support and train staff to insure a quality program as well as to help the staff reach their potential.

  • This award is presented to an outstanding director or owner in recognition of his/her positive manner that encourages and inspires children and adults alike.
  • The award recipient must meet the following criteria:
  • Be the director or owner of a childcare center or family and group program for at least three (3) years.
  • Demonstrate leadership and commitment to quality.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to ongoing professional development for staff.
  • Exceed licensing requirements in his/her training hours.

The agency for which the nominee works bust be in the CAAEYC service area (Bledsoe, Bradley,
Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie).


2006     Vicky Flessner

Certified Nature Explore Classroom

Nature Explore®  is a collaborative project of Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

Certified Nature Explore Classrooms are dynamic, nature-based play and learning spaces. Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom Design Services apply research-based, field-tested design principles to create these nature-rich outdoor spaces that can be located anywhere a school, child care center, park, or other community site might have a traditional playground. Certified Nature Explore Classrooms enhance the physical environment and add natural beauty to the surrounding area. A network of Certified Nature Explore Classrooms is growing throughout the United States in elementary schools; early childhood programs; nature centers; military bases; national forests, parks and wildlife refuges; zoos; Head Start centers; arboretums; children's museums and other public spaces.

The Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program is a national initiative that recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. Grounded in over a decade of research and field-testing, this widespread initiative is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Foundation in collaboration with environmental, educational, design and health organizations. 

Certification Requirements

  1. Well-designed outdoor space: Provide evidence that principles from the Learning with Nature Idea Book were used in the design of new spaces, or the redesign of existing spaces. For renewal, provide evidence of annual maintenance.
  2. Staff development: Provide evidence that staff have attended a full-length Nature Explore Workshop. For renewal, provide evidence of annual professional development relating to nature education.
  3. Family involvement: Provide evidence that activities or materials designed to increase family awareness and involvement in nature education for young children are provided regularly.

Read more about our Nature Explore Classroom here.


2012     CERTIFIED
2016     Celebrating our 5th year re-certified

Southern Early Childhood Association Exemplary Outdoor Classroom

The purpose of the SECA Exemplary Outdoor Classroom Contest is to:
1. Highlight quality, nature-friendly outdoor learning environments that can be used as models for
programs seeking to improve their own outdoor spaces.
2. Identify models of quality outdoor spaces which can be exemplified in each of the SECA Affiliate states.

Southern Early Childhood Association 



National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat®

"...create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young you not only help wildlife, but you also qualify to become an official Certified Wildlife Habitat®."