A Kalamazoo County educator known for challenging her students to set and meet high personal goals and for coaching individuals and teams to forensics championships has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Ashley Bowen, teaches English, theatre, and forensics at Portage Central High School, which is part of the Portage Community School District.
The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education award program 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 Bowen 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 Bowen at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.
Bowen said her favorite part of being an educator is “helping students to find their voices. I am lucky to work in a field that helps students discover and foster their passions. There is nothing better than seeing students doing something they love.”
“I believe in the power of education and feel an obligation to help push students to be their best selves. I am lucky to have the chance to do this in the classroom and through coaching forensics and directing theatre productions,” she said.
Bowen credits her teachers and other educators for leading her to a career in education. “I had amazing role models and mentors in education. They made a difference in my life and I feel it is important for me to serve that role for my students and continue that,” she said.
A former student nominated Bowen for the Excellence in Education award, describing her as having “a deep commitment to the understanding of young people and the importance of developing their voices and understanding of the world around them.”
The nomination noted Bowen has coached two state championship forensics teams, twelve individual state champions, and 13 national qualifiers. She was named the Individual Events Coach of the Year for 2015 by Michigan Speech Coaches, Inc. and also has been recognized by the National Speech & Debate Association.
“While her coaching and directing accomplishments are impressive, they are in no comparison to her compassion and dedication in the classroom,” the nomination said. “She strives to challenge her students in the classroom and in accomplishing their personal goals to become better learners and people. She has been able to do this most effectively through the use of speech education.”
The former student, Ashley Kerby, said Bowen “pushed my limits, both intellectually and personally. She never let me settle for ‘good enough.’ Even if I flew through every assignment and excelled on each assessment, I knew that I had room for improvement; I could see where I could do more. Her mentorship and direction truly shaped my path in life.”
Kerby said Bowen’s energy and enthusiasm in the classroom are contagious. “I was amazed by her ability to provide information in a meaningful way through strong leadership and direction, while allowing the students to do the majority of the talking.”
Bowen has been an educator for nine years, the last four with the Portage Community School District. She earned undergraduate degrees from Western Michigan University in secondary education with a specialization in English/speech and communications and for music performance. She went on to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership from Michigan State University.
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.