A Kent County educator known for expanding learning beyond the classroom by providing his special education students with hands on experiences, such community projects and a student-run coffee shop, has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Daniel Hensley, is a special education teacher at University Prep Academy in Grand Rapids. The school is part of the Grand Rapids Public Schools district.
The Michigan Lottery 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 Hensley 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 with Hensley at the Breslin Center and presented him with the award.
Hensley said his favorite part of being an educator is helping students realize their worth and potential. “I love helping kids who may not have great self-confidence see that they all have great things to offer and to find their talent.”
Choosing education as a career came naturally to Hensley. “I have always enjoyed working with students as a coach, tutor, and in other roles. I tended to be interested in helping students who struggled in one way or another. Being an out-of-the-box thinker, I gravitated toward special education,” he said.
Hensley said his own experience as a student motivates him to give his best each day. “I was the kid who was the square peg in a round hole. I was fortunate to have great support from family, friends, and teachers. It’s always been my goal to be that person in all my kids’ lives they can depend upon, the person who will believe in them and their potential for success.”
Hensley considers hands on experiences and getting students involved in their community to be key elements in helping students with learning challenges succeed. The hands on courses that he’s created for his students include a social problems course in which the students created a fund raising project and raised more than $2,000 for Mel Trotter’s Women’s and Children’s Shelter in Grand Rapids.
“Students created the campaign, raised the funds, researched and designed a room in the new shelter and then, with the help of parents and community members, purchased the materials and fully furnished the room, which still is being used today at the shelter,” he said.
The development of the student-run coffee shop, dubbed the Snack Attack Café, was designed to expose students to many essential aspects of business by running a business within the school. With the creative curriculum developed by Hensley, students learned “basic business skills from budgeting, purchasing, merchandising, accounting and handling personnel matters,” he said, adding that several area businesses supported the course and it provided valuable learning opportunities for the students.
Hensley said he’s also worked with DonorsChoose.org to obtain assistive technology to help students with disabilities overcome some of their learning challenges. DonorsChoose.org allows public school teachers to create classroom project requests and visitors to the website pick the projects that they want to support.
Hensley has been an educator for 19 years, the past 15 with the Grand Rapids Public Schools. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications from Hope College and a bachelor of science degree in psychology/special education from Grand Valley State University. He currently is working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership from Capella University.
The Excellence in Education award nomination for Hensley described him as a teacher who “has always gone above and beyond for his students, especially in the expectation of achievement. He developed the first student-run coffee and snack shop, and using the Donors Choose program has acquired technology to help ensure student achievement and confidence.”
The nomination noted: “Daniel has an engaging teaching style and uses great techniques and strategies. Many of his fellow teachers have learned a lot from him and have been strongly influenced by his positive attitude. He’s truly an unsung hero.”
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.