There is nothing dull about Rita Ponzo's kindergarten class at Estes Elementary School.
The bubble wrap she handed her students last week to stomp on and pop was a hit.
She had them twirling, sliding and jumping on top of their carpet squares to learn about movement.
And she even had a captive audience during attendance, when she asked "Whose name starts with the letter A?"
A student's response goes like this, "That's my name. I am here."
Ponzo is an early-childhood special-education teacher at Estes and recently received the Edith Davis Lifetime Achievement Award from The Arc of Arizona, an organization for people with cognitive, intellectual and development disabilities and their families.
She was recognized for her contributions to people with developmental disabilities.
Ponzo has worked as an early-childhood special-education teacher in the Marana Unified School District for 10 years and before that was a special-education teacher in Illinois for 20 years. She is also certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
"I like working at the early-childhood level because the window of opportunity where they can make the most gains is birth to age 8," Ponzo said.
She received the award at the organization's 44th annual membership meeting Oct. 18 in Casa Grande.
"I was just really honored," Ponzo said. "But everything I do here is still a large collaborative team effort. We work with so many people all together."
A parent who had a student in Ponzo's kindergarten class last year nominated Ponzo for the award.
"She exceeded my expectations so greatly and I know she's been doing this a long time and I thought she deserved some recognition," the parent, Amy Paegel, said.
Paegel said her son Joshua, who has Down syndrome, thrived in Ponzo's classroom.
"He learned so much in her class," she said. "He was so comfortable in her class that he was able to flourish academically in a way he had not done before."
Ponzo said it always has been her goal to educate students and their families.
It's not uncommon for special-education teachers to leave the field after five years, but Ponzo returns every year because she knows she's making a difference.
"The teacher burnout rate for special education is very high. Many people don't make it past five years," she said. "I just really enjoy it. I love working with families. I like knowing that I'm making a difference in those children's lives and their families' lives."
That is no different this year.
She wants all 10 of her students to spend an appropriate part of their day integrated into a regular kindergarten class by the end of the school year.
And she's preparing her students with song and dance, activities that involve coloring and cutting and even free play.
All are activities that teach fine and gross motor skills, social skills and cognitive skills.
"We do keep it high-paced but very structured because the kids work well with play-based sensory activities where they're actively involved in their learning," she said.
Estes Principal Nancy Paddock said the entire school is proud of Ponzo's success.
And her contributions go beyond the classroom.
Ponzo mentors new teachers and leads team meetings and training.
She has formed partnerships in the business community and builds successful relationships with parents.
"Rita has been an outstanding teacher-leader at Estes and we are very proud of her achievement," Paddock wrote in an e-mail.