Early Childhood Awards

The SAZAEYC Early Childhood Awards are named in honor of people in our community who have contributed to the early childhood education profession and community on behalf of young children. Since the mid-1980’s when the idea for these awards was first established, we’ve been able to bring a special recognition to outstanding professionals in the Southern Arizona community.

Each year the winners are introduced at the SAZAEYC Annual Brunch in May, by the person who nominated them. The winner will be given five minutes to thank and accept the award at the brunch. To preserve impartiality, current SAZAEYC Board members are not eligible for award nomination.

The 2020 nomination period is open until March 22nd.

Click Here to nominate someone for one of our SAZAEYC Awards:


The awards and their descriptions are as follows:

Frances Miller Community Action on Behalf of Young Children Award
Frances was born in the east and moved to Tucson in 1958. She graduated from the National College of Education in Evanston, IL in 1932, and taught in elementary schools in the midwest for 21 years. She taught in settlement houses in slums and was married to Earl Miller.

In Tucson, she was very active in the AAUW and worked on early childhood causes. She was one of the founders of the preschool at St. Mark’s and instrumental in having kindergartens funded by the State of Arizona.

She helped establish Tucson Association for Child Care (TACC), which is now Arizona Child Care and Family Resources, and was on their board for many years. She was a board member of Tucson Community School and received the Jefferson Award in 1988. She died in 1994. Kay Rencken and Betty Olstad have many memories of her fierce devotion to our profession.

Cecilia Avalos Parent Education Award
Cecilia was born in 1922 and married to Manny Avalos. She graduated from Northern Arizona College in 1943 and taught in many schools in poor neighborhoods. She received her MA from the university in 1983 and is the author of many bilingual books for children and their parents.

Cecilia taught in the Model Cities program and then developed the Parent and Child Education Program (PACE) in TUSD. She was the director of PACE from 1971-1983 when she retired. She worked relentlessly to establish a quality program for young children in Title I schools. She fiercely believed in furthering the education of parents and in supporting “her girls” who were early childhood teachers.

In 1992 a senior at Tucson High School who had been a PACE student at Richey Elementary School, was struggling to get together enough money to attend the University of Arizona. That was the beginning of the idea for a scholarship to specifically benefit students who participated in the PACE program. In May 1996, the Cecilia Avalos Scholarship Fund was established as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of PACE.

Nina Brannen Teaching Young Children Award
Nina was born in 1900 and died in 1991 at the age of 91. She was married to Horace Brannen and spent many years teaching in Brooklyn, NY, before moving to Tucson. On a shoestring, she began Little Bear’s School near the university. She believed that “children are happiest when they have the basic materials – water, mud, sticks and trees – and can let their imagination take it from there.”

Nina was instrumental in organizing and running the Tucson branch of the National Association for Nursery Education (NANE). In 1964, this became NAEYC and she was one of the founders of the Tucson Association for the Education of Young Children (TAEYC), serving as president. She was also a consultant to Head Start when it began; a CDA advisor for Central Arizona College; a teacher at Tucson Community School; and an author of CDA modules. She was a petite woman with a dynamic personality, devoted to early childhood and a keen sense of humor.

Mary Frobisher Teacher Education Award
Mary was born in 1905 and died in 1992 at the age of 87. She was married to Hamilton Frobisher, MD. She graduated from Temple University in 1926 and had a master’s in child psychology from the University of Iowa. She was a professor of child development and education at Smith College for 16 years and director of a preschool for deaf children.

She moved to Tucson in 1952 and set up the Easter Seals program. She was the first director of Tucson Community School from 1955-1966 and a trustee for many years. She was also the director of training for Head Start when it began in the mid-1960s and for many years a consultant to the Navajo Head Start programs. Mary was a lecturer at the University of Arizona where many took her graduate classes.

Board Award
In 2003, the SAZAEYC Governing Board decided to institute a new award in recognition of public service supporting children’s issues and political advocacy on the behalf of young chidren.