Zoila Vallavares has been adding brightness to the mornings of young children and their parents for more than 20 years. As a teacher at Bethesda Community School preschool and kindergarten in Bethesda, Maryland, Zoila offers encouragement and affection to children as they learn and grow during their formative years.
Zoila teaches children ages two and three, and for many, she is their first teacher outside of the home. She takes pride in providing a nurturing environment in which children can explore, develop independence and build friendships with a strong sense of security.
Not surprisingly, Zoila’s job requires energy and enthusiasm, both of which she has in abundance. However, some of the physical aspects of caring for young children have become more difficult for her over the years. Zoila has rheumatoid arthritis, which started in her feet and has since spread to other parts of her body, including her hands. On the job, this affects her ability to help children with zippers and buttons, and activities requiring dexterity such as scissoring.
Accommodations for Zoila’s disability include being able to sit down frequently, especially toward the end of the day, and splitting duties with a co-teacher so that Zoila has to do less fine motor skill activities. For example, her co-teacher might help children remove their coats and boots after playing outside on a cold day, while Zoila helps them wash their hands. Another important accommodation Zoila’s employer provides is the flexibility to leave early every few months for doctor’s appointments.
Zoila greatly appreciates the support her employer has provided to her in managing her rheumatoid arthritis because she loves spending her days with young children. Judging from the smiles on her students’ faces every morning, the feeling is mutual.