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When Columbus Head Start Preschool Teacher Polly Bahns began her education career back in 1993, she never imagined she would someday be named as the Nebraska Head Start Teacher of the Year. But, it recently happened.

“It is an honor and surprise,” the Oakland native said of the honor she received earlier this month.

A successful candidate possesses at least five years of experience in a Nebraska program serving as a classroom lead teacher, associate teacher, home visitor or instructional mentor, according to award requirements. Bahns' 25 years of experience with the Head Start Program was certainly factored in.

The program is federally grant funded and promotes school readiness of children ages 5 and younger from low-income families through education, health, social and other services. It consists of dental and health exams; vision, hearing and language tests; immunizations; nutritious meals and educational activities, according to the Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership’s official website.

“It means to me that people are noticing what teachers are doing and even the little things we do are important,” said Bahns, who leads two classrooms consisting of 17 students (ages 3 to 4).

Assistant co-teacher Norma Rodriguez works closely with Bahns in the classrooms. Rodriguez said she can’t think of anyone else more deserving of the award.

“She’s so dedicated,” said Rodriguez, who has worked with Bahns for at least 10 years. “A wonderful boss. Just very caring to the kids and to her staff … and she always brings us doughnuts.”

Even after receiving the award, Rodriguez said Bahns remained humble.

Bahns, who was a stay-at-home mother for several years until her children went to school, said she felt like something was lacking in the public education system: Compassion. She wanted to fill that void and provide students with a curriculum catering to their different characteristics and abilities.

Bahns said she wanted to break off from the one-size-fits-all mold that tends to leave many students behind.

“My kids – they all have different abilities and disabilities,” she said. “I just wanted more help and if I couldn’t find it, then I am sure there are a lot of other parents who couldn’t find what I needed, also, and I wanted to help other parents.”

Bahns said she strives to lead her classrooms in a firm but loving manner, noting she always has a smile on her face with a hint of glare.

She started out as a co-teacher bus driver for the Schuyler Head Start Program in 1993. Bahns received her Child Development Associate (CDA) credential in July 1999 and was hired as a teacher in 2001 for the Columbus Head Start Program at the Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership building, 3286 53rd Ave.

Since moving to Clarkson in 1978, Bahns commutes back and forth to work every day.

Throughout the years, Bahns said more people are growing to recognize the importance of early childhood education. Because of that, she said it pushed teachers to gain more knowledge and skills by obtaining associate and bachelor’s degrees. Bahns received these qualifications from Central Community College in Columbus and at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, respectively.

“It was a lot of work but you can do it,” said Bahns, who had to juggle her education while teaching.

Bahns said the people she works with keep her motivated. She noted it’s important to surround yourself with supportive and loving coworkers.

Bahns envisions herself working with the program for quite some time. Even when she's done professionally, Bahns said she would return to the facility as a volunteer.

“With this job here, you have to love it,” she said. “You have to want to help the families and the children because it’s too much work and not enough pay.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at

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