A Kalamazoo County educator known for re-establishing a high school newspaper and using it to provide new opportunities for students and to encourage them to excel has been has been honored with an Excellence of Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Amanda Thorpe, taught English and history at Portage Community High School in addition to advising the school’s award-winning student newspaper, the “Spitfire,” for the last six years. Portage Community High School is an alternative high school within the Portage Public Schools district that serves students from the greater Kalamazoo area. Thorpe moved to Portage Northern High School for the start of the 2015 school year, but continues to run the Portage Community High journalism program on a volunteer basis after school so students there still will be able to take part and benefit from the acclaimed organization.
The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education awards in 2014 to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.
Winners of the weekly award will 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 will be 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 Thorpe will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing and then on Thursday 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 Thorpe at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.
Thorpe said her favorite part of being a teacher is “the possibility to be the difference for students, especially the at-risk students who I work with. Seeing my students ‘make it’ and graduate, knowing what they’ve had to overcome to accomplish that, is incredibly fulfilling.”
Thorpe has been an educator for seven years, all with the Portage Public Schools, and credits one of her high school teachers, Karl Schwartz, for helping her to succeed as a student and find her way to a career in education.
“He saw the potential in me before I ever saw it in myself. He inspired me to be the first person in my family to attend college. I knew from the first day of my first education class in college that I made the right choice. I feel called to education and absolutely love being a classroom teacher,” she said.
She also credits the unconditional love and support from her father, Todd Becktel, of Dowling, her grandparents, Gerry and Deanna Becktel, of Nashville, Mich., and her husband, Cory Thorpe, of Gobles, as driving factors of her success in the classroom.
Thorpe said the students inspire her to do her best each day. “Working in an at-risk school is full of both triumph and tragedy. At the end of the day, it’s the students who make it worthwhile and who show me how absolutely essential it is that I do my best for them. For some of the students, school and the journalism staff is all they have,” she said, adding that for the journalism students, or the “J-Staff,” as they call themselves, their peers aren’t just classmates, they are family who will maintain close ties to each other and to her through college and beyond, she said.
The student newspaper’s 2014-15 editor-in-chief, now the first person in his family to attend college, nominated her for the Excellence in Education award. The nomination noted that with Thorpe’s guidance the school’s student journalists have become an award-winning team, garnering multiple state awards for their articles and photographs. “She has helped so many with her kindness and devotion. She helps organize school events and participates in every school activity,” the nomination added.
Under Thorpe’s guidance, the newspaper staff has won nearly 100 individual awards and many awards for the whole staff, including the Spartan Award, which is the highest award bestowed upon a student news publication in the state. Thorpe also was the 2012 Michigan Journalism Teacher of the Year and currently is a 2015 Nationally Distinguished Adviser.
Thorpe earned a bachelor of arts degree in English and history from Western Michigan University and master of arts degree in education from Cornerstone University, where her master’s thesis focused on best practices in curriculum and instruction for at-risk students. She also is a faculty member of Cornerstone University, where she serves as an instructor for undergraduate courses in English and history and graduate courses in education.
In addition to teaching and advising for the student newspaper, Thorpe currently is working on obtaining a doctorate in education with a specialization in urban education from Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation focuses on increasing academic achievement among at-risk students.
Outstanding public school educators may be nominated for an Excellence in Education award at http://bit.ly/ExcellenceInEducation or through the websites of the Lottery’s media partner stations.
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.