A Calhoun County educator known for using innovative methods to inspire and engage students, especially those struggling in the classroom, has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Tara Rice, teaches English, specializing in reading intervention, at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek. The school is part of the Lakeview School 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 Rice will air this 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 Rice at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.
She said her favorite part of being an educator is “empowering kids to reach their next goal, make that next connection, and taste success. The excitement and energy that fills a classroom after kids taste success is worth every bit of energy that it takes to help them get there.”
“The students motivate me every day. I can’t believe I have the wonderful opportunities to work with amazing students each day,” she said. “My life is enriched and blessed and challenged by their excitement and energy and the depth of their thinking.”
Rice said she was attracted to a career in education because “I knew I wanted to help people. What I didn’t realize was how much a career in education would drive me to keep learning and expand my skills. I want to keep learning for my students.”
Rice has been an educator for 13 years, the last two at Lakeview High School. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in secondary English education from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and a master of arts degree in curriculum, instruction, and assessment from Walden University, in Minneapolis, Minn. She currently is seeking a reading specialist degree from Grand Valley State University.
Rice was nominated for the Excellence in Education award by a colleague, who described her as “an outstanding educator who loves what she does. She knows that all students can learn and can be successful. Her personal philosophy involves meeting students where they are at, not where she would like them to be. This may involve reading non-traditional literature, graphic novels, or blogs or having students analyze literature in a way that speaks to them.”
For example, instead of having a struggling student – who was fascinated with zombies – do a standard essay on the characters in a novel, she assigned him to write a zombie apocalypse survival guide, the nomination noted. “In his survival guide, the student had to assign each character from the novel he read a specific role. He had to be specific as to why that character received the role and back that up with material from the book. He was so excited for this assignment, and through his writing, she was able to see that he truly understood what he had read in class.”
The nomination added that “Mrs. Rice is constantly looking for ways to connect with her students and where they are as learners. She stays on top of what is of interest to students and is not afraid to go out of the ‘norm’ with her instructions in order to keep the interest of her students. She has brought a new way of teaching to her current school district, and is not afraid to stand up for what is right for all students, not just students who always succeed.
“She is a radical learner, in that she is consistently reading and studying new topics in education that will improve her craft. Her students are motivated in her classroom because of her contagious smile and a love of teaching that radiates from her every day Tara Rice takes on roles that a lot of educators would prefer not to take because they are more challenging. She has a way with students who are labeled as ‘struggling’ students and she loves what she does.”
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.