MERCED COUNTY, Calif. - Every day is one to celebrate in Mrs. O'Bara's class.
With dancing and singing, learning is fun.
"She's a great teacher. She's the best teacher," said 5-year-old Elena.
Her classroom, decorated from wall to wall, is magical.
"It's the best," said 5-year-old Matthew.
O'Bara is one of Peggy Heller Elementary's Transitional Kindergarten teachers in Atwater. A bridge class between preschool and kindergarten teaching fundamental developmental skills to 4 to 5-year-olds.
For her, teaching is more than a job.
"It's sort of my purpose. I feel like I can make a difference just in what I can do right here," said Carrie O'Bara.
It's about inspiring her students at a young age. Something she's been doing for 34 years.
"I enjoy being one of their first experiences with the formal school setting. I enjoy showing that school can be fun and exciting and that everybody has the potential to be successful in school," she said.
So well, she's awarded Merced County's Excellence in Education Teacher of the Year.
"I literally just started to shake because it was just so meaningful for me. In all of my years teaching, even though you have those special milestones that are so important, to have this recognition from peers and the community is one of the most special moments of my life," said O'Bara.
Peggy Heller Principal Lyndsay Olds said Mrs. O'Bara's dedication is unparalleled.
"She's just an amazing human being. She's a wonderful educator, she's compassionate, she's kind, and she knows what those 4 and 5-year-olds need as a strong base in education. She loves her kids like they are her own. She builds strong relationships with our parents and hooks them from the beginning. A top notch educator. She has the heart, and that's something you can't teach, it's engrained. She is always at the top of her game," she said.
"What I love about the transitional kindergarten I get to think about the whole child. I get to help provide opportunities for learning for different things, not just academics, Social skills, language skills, physical gross motors skills, and fine motors skills," said O'Bara.
It's in those small moments Mrs. O'Bara realizes these children are inspiring her.
"I enjoy watching them literally figure out how to do things; their joy in learning and enthusiasm they bring to school," she said.
Exactly why early childhood education matters.
"When I look in their eyes and sit down with them I know that I can make a difference just with that one child. That's where it starts, just one child at a time," said O'Bara.