A Kent County educator known for sharing his love of theater and the English language in the classroom and inspiring students to take part in school and community theater projects has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Jeremy Schnotala, teaches English, speech, creative writing and theater at Wyoming Junior High School, which is part of the Wyoming Public Schools district.
The Michigan Lottery recently established the Excellence in Education awards to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.
Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize, and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
Each winner also is featured in a news segment on the Lottery’s media partner stations: WXYZ-TV in Detroit, FOX 17 in Grand Rapids, and FOX 47 in Lansing. The news segment featuring Schnotala will air Tuesday evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing and Thursday evening in Detroit.
For the Excellence in Education awards program, the Lottery has teamed up with Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo. Izzo met recently with Schnotala at the Breslin Center and presented him with the award.
Schnotala said he was attracted to a career in education because of the opportunities to “help students grow and through education change their lives and their futures.”
“I really enjoy working with students in class and in the extracurricular theater program. I direct a musical, a play, and a talent show each year and I enjoy it more every year,” he said.
Schnotala said his students motivate him to make an extra effort every day. “The challenges in education have grown every year and those challenges motivate me to push harder. It’s not easy: fighting lack of funding, poverty, unmotivated students, but that extra effort to make a difference in a student’s life is what really matters.”
Schnotala has been an educator for 21 years with the Wyoming Public Schools, 18 years with Wyoming Park High School and the last three at Wyoming Junior High School after the two merged. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in English, speech, and German from Calvin College and a master of arts degree in English education from Western Michigan University. He currently is working on an MFA in creative writing at Western Michigan.
Several people nominated Schnotala for the Excellence in Education award. The nomination from a former student described him as “an absolutely wonderful teacher. Not only does he teach English in a way that keeps kids interested, he goes about it in a fun way. From choosing wonderful books for his honors class, to creating silly activities, to making them memorize and act out an entire scene of Shakespeare on a stage, to celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday in class. Somehow, through the fun, the learning is immense.”
The nomination noted that Schnotala is “a true thespian at heart. His classroom is so full of props, books, posters, and gifts from students that it creates an interesting learning environment. It also doubles as a rehearsal space for the theater company. He’s a leader in the school and out. A director for the hugely successful and dedicated local theater company, which puts up astounding productions year after year, to doing community outreach with the theater company, such as providing Christmas presents or meals for families in need throughout the community.”
Schnotala said his work with the Wyoming Theater Company is based on a motto that he learned from his theater professors at Calvin College: “Theater is community.”
“We usually have 50 to 80 students, grades eight through 12 in the program. The students and their families work with me to build EVERYTHING ourselves, all of our costumes and props on top of all the acting, singing, dancing, and technical equipment,” he said. “We put in about three to four months preparing each show and raise all our funds — $20,000 or more — to produce each production with a lot of community donations and support to make that happen.
“We build a community together, share our talent with our own community and also reach out and help those in need each year,” Schnotala said. “For the students involved in the program, the theater company becomes a second family, our family. We laugh together, cry together, learn and grow as we work toward whatever performance we are staging. For most of the students, their greatest memories of their time in school come from the experiences they’ve had with their theater family. And for me, I have a lifetime of those memories as well.”
The Wyoming Theater Company recently staged “Nunsense, the Mega Musical” at the Dan Heintzleman Auditorium.
Excellence in Education award nominees are evaluated on the following criteria:
- Excellence – Their work consistently helps students and/or their schools or school districts advance to higher levels of academic achievement.
- Dedication – They consistently go above and beyond expectations to help students succeed.
- Inspiration – Their work inspires others around them to exceed expectations either academically or professionally.
- Leadership – They demonstrate clear leadership skills in their positions with their school or school districts
- Effectiveness – The nominee’s work has clear and positive results on the educational advancement of students within the school or school district.