An Ottawa County educator who created a program for sixth graders to research a local waterway’s ecosystem and helped launch a community science field day has been honored with an Excellence of Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Keith Piccard, teaches science and coaches wrestling at Allendale Middle School. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Grand Valley State University, where he is an instructor for biology and general science courses.
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 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 Piccard 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 Piccard at the Breslin Center and presented him with the award.
Piccard said his favorite parts of being a teacher are seeing the smiles on students’ faces when they grasp a new concept and the “light bulbs” go off as well as being able to share his love of science. “In fact, I sometimes wonder why I get paid for what I do since it often doesn’t feel like a job,” he said.
Piccard has been an educator for 14 years, 13 with the Allendale Public Schools, and said being able to help shape students’ lives attracted him to a career in education.
“I love instilling passion into a student’s heart and mind. I try to take advantage of every opportunity to make a difference in a person’s life,” he said. “I also am able to encourage students beyond the classroom with my role as a wrestling coach. In other careers, satisfaction may come from seeing what the results are at the end of an assembly line, but my satisfaction comes when I get to see my students grow up to be respectable, passionate people who contribute positively to society.”
He said his love of science, the opportunities to help students, and his own high professional standards inspire him to do his best each day in the classroom. “I was fortunate enough to find a job that I love doing. And growing up I was taught that whenever you do a job, you make sure you put everything you have into that job,” he said. “I have two little daughters and I want to instill in them that same philosophy along with a passion for learning new things.”
Piccard earned two degrees from Grand Valley State University: a bachelor of science degree in biology and a master’s degree in biology.
A parent of a former student nominated Piccard for the Excellence in Education award. The nomination described Piccard as “one of the most engaging middle school teachers that I know. He is passionate about the sciences and his energy and enthusiasm have fueled an interest in the sciences for many middle school students.
“Keith strives to bring out the best in his students, regardless of their learning style or academic level. He believes in his students and he makes sure they know that,” the nomination added.
Piccard developed the Riparian Area Integrated Learning (RAIL) project to give his students an opportunity to do hands-on scientific work outside the classroom. With the RAIL project, students do research on insects and other organisms in a local waterway’s ecosystem.
“Children are naturally attracted to running water, but not all students are immediately attracted to science. I take advantage of students’ natural inquisitiveness by giving them the opportunity to ask meaningful questions and collect, interpret and contribute real data. That allows them to gain insights into concepts and processes occurring in a previously mysterious world of stream ecosystems,” Piccard said.
As part of the project, the students compile data and share the results of the project. The data is shared with: the University of Michigan Sea Grants Department, the Michigan State University Sea Grants Department, Allegheny College, Grand Valley State University, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Brazilian Institute of Benthic Science. The program won an Education Excellence award last year from the Michigan Association of School Boards and the SET-SEG Insurance Company.
Working with Grand Valley State University, Piccard also helped create the Allendale Community Field Day. That is an annual event that brings Grand Valley State faculty and students together with members from the Allendale community and the public schools for a fun day of engaging activities that promote outdoor education. “Things that Pollinate” was the theme of this year’s Community Field Day, which taught families how to build a bee house, plant flowers, find out what makes them sneeze, and much more.
Piccard said the objective of the Community Field Days is to “harness the power of many volunteers to work on projects that support outdoor activities on the Allendale Public Schools K-8 campus. This ongoing project is an opportunity for participants to contribute toward the improvement of outdoor educational facilities that are accessible to all.”
Previous activities have included planting more than 180 oak trees and establishing two gardens for the study of cyclical events, such as flowering, breeding, and migration in relation to climatic conditions.
Piccard said he planned to use the money from his Excellence in Education award to supplement the grants that he seeks out to support the RAIL project, the Community Field Day, and other projects. “I have a long list of projects that I’d like to tackle for the students and the community,” he said, adding that list included community gardens, installing Flow Hives for bees on the Grand Valley State University and Allendale Public Schools campuses and creating an interactive online research database for members of the public to contribute their observations.
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.