It has been a tradition for many years for the Springfield Local Association of Classroom Teachers to honor someone from the community as the Friend of Education during its annual beginning of school staff meeting.

The Friend of Education award went to two people this year: Springfield Community Policing Officer Dan Rafferty and Coordinator of Volunteer Auxiliary Springfield Police (VASP) Linda Lohr. The team Jennifer Hoskin, Christie Hubert and Beth Burgess, all kindergarten teachers at Young Elementary School, nominated the pair.

Two years ago, Rafferty and Lohr reached out to all of the kindergarten teachers in both elementary buildings with the intent to build relationships between police and the youngest students in Springfield.

The teachers said aside from normal day-to-day responsibilities of being a community protectors, Rafferty and Lohr are impacting the lives of children at Young Elementary. Every week, the two are at school as a part of the "Books and Badges" program in which the officers come to the schools and read to each kindergarten and preschool classroom. Also, during the Right to Read Week, they provide every kindergarten student with a t-shirt as part of the program. Rafferty and Lohr also donated a book for each student to take home in recognition of Right to Read Week.

The kindergarten teaching team also told those in attendance that the officers are changing the atmosphere within Young Elementary. They said one of the greatest challenges that Young is facing with the Leader in Me process is finding a means to fund all of the exciting materials and leadership events that the staff is developing. Lohr and Rafferty continually support the program. They have incorporated the terms of the leadership program into their lessons and have worked to find financial support through grants and donations. They took on the challenge of funding through grants and donations for a 14-foot leadership tree mural for the school's gym. The teachers said the tree is a symbol of the seven habits of leadership that "we are working to develop in students on a daily bases."

Rafferty and Lohr found a way to fund Field Day at the school, something that would not have been possible for the students last year without those efforts. Also, they helped with Parent Academy and Safety Town. The teachers pointed out that it has been many years since Safety Town has been offered for the students.

"Dan and Linda have been like genies in a bottle to us," said Young Elementary Principal Jennifer Ganzer. "They spend so much time here with our students, and whenever there is a need, they somehow find a way to help us meet it. I view them as a part of our staff and cannot express how much they are appreciated."