A Grand Traverse County educator known for her extra efforts to find ways to help each student succeed and for taking on leadership roles at her school has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Julie Merchant, teaches second grade at Fife Lake Elementary School in Fife Lake. The school is part of the Forest Area Community Schools 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 Merchant 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 Merchant at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.
Merchant said her favorite parts of being an educator are that “each day is different and each class and each student teaches me so much about myself and how to be a better teacher. I look for new ways to reach each student’s academic and emotional needs. Seeing students develop a love of learning brings me joy.”
She said she was attracted to a career in education because “I wanted to share my passion for learning with others and make a positive impact for the students who just need someone to find a strategy, a tool or method that would inspire them to give their ‘all’ in the classroom.”
Merchant said her students motivate her to do her best each day. “It’s watching a student who has been struggling with something finally figure it out. When they finally realize they can take risks and make mistakes and learn from them.”
The Excellence in Education award nomination for Merchant describes her as a teacher who “puts her heart and soul into the education of her students every day. Typically, Julie’s students make tremendous gains during the school year.”
“Long after the kids have gone home, Julie is in her classroom, preparing lessons, grading papers, reviewing data, and contacting parents. She communicates with parents on a routine basis. She doesn’t call only when students are struggling, but also when students are excelling in a certain area,” the nomination said, adding that Merchant is a member of the school’s leadership team, the school improvement team, and also serves as the student council supervisor and recess supervisor. “These extra duties are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her hard work.”
Merchant has been an educator for 16 years, all with the Forest Area Community Schools district and the last 11 in her current position at Fife Lake Elementary. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in English and elementary education from Grand Valley State University and a master’s degree from Marygrove College.
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.