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Excellent Educator: Way To Grow's Eka Nagoya

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- When it comes to teaching kids, preschool is an age that requires a lot of patience. It's an extra challenge when the majority struggle to speak English.

One Minnesota teacher is dedicated to making sure all his preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, and that's what makes Eka Nagoya this week's Excellent Educator.

Nagoya, who has taught preschool for 10 years, says his life revolves around his students. He even thinks about school while on vacation.

"My partner always says put down the phone," Nagoya said.

Nagoya works for Way to Grow, a non-profit school teaching children of first generation immigrants who are often isolated from the community. Way to Grow is also a home visiting program, serving families prenatal through grade 3.

"Ninety percent of our (kids who come here) are English language learners, so they come from a family where English is not their first language, so it's a challenge when we have to teach them in English," he said.

Nagoya is known for making order a big priority in the classroom.

"The thing is they are getting ready to go to kindergarten. We want them to know what they are ... supposed to act in kindergarten," he said.

During WCCO's visit, the students were learning the letter "F." Nagoya uses all sorts of tools to teach, many of which he pays for out of his own pocket, such as toys for refining motor skills and dress-up clothes.
"I work for a nonprofit organization, not a lot of money there," he said.

Nagoya's dedication has gotten him noticed and even promotions, which he's turned down.

"Eka is really a high-quality teacher. There are other folks that come and watch the classroom and learn from him," director of early learning Carrie Zelin Johnson said. "He just doesn't want to be in a position that takes him away from being with children and having a direct impact on them."

Little do the kids know they're having just as big of an impact on him.

"Why I chose this job is to see their growth, their improvement, so when you do something and they show that they can do it, compared to before when they didn't know and now they know, it's just a good satisfaction," Nagoya said.

Nagoya was born and raised in Japan. It was at his part time job in at McDonald's in Japan where he developed a desire to work with young kids. He was in charge of throwing birthday parties and fell in love with them that age.

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