A Kent County educator known for her commitment to help her special needs students learn and develop by keeping them engaged and involved in classroom activities has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Nancy Cool, teaches at the Pine Grove Learning Center in Grand Rapids. The school for special needs students is part of the Grand Rapids Public 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 Cool 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 Cool at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.
Cool said her favorite parts of being an educator are “when the light bulbs go on for students and teaching children to communicate with sign language.”
She said was attracted to a career in education by “children with special needs. I started out as a physical education teacher, then switched to special education.”
She said the students motivate her to do her best each day and to find new learning opportunities for them, such as “our sensory garden, which is for all students with disabilities to enjoy and to touch, taste, and smell the various herbs and plants.”
Cool was nominated for the Excellence in Education award by a colleague, who described her as “an amazing teacher who gives her best each day to serve the diverse needs of her students and she challenges them with higher level learning concepts to help them excel.”
“Mrs. Cool works with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders from ages 5 to 14. The students in our class can be difficult to work with and have many sensory and behavioral issues. They are non-verbal and require a great deal of assistance,” the nomination said.
“Her morning circle program is full of music, visuals, and enthusiasm that keep her students engaged and learning. If there is something that she feels will help her students to grasp a concept, stay engaged or just make something more visually appealing, she will purchase it with her own money.
“Mrs. Cool is involved in our school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program. She has facilitated and coordinated many fun events for our students including groups that have come and performed concerts, disc jockeys who have played for school dances, sock hops and Christmas programs. Mrs. Cool mentors new teachers through our district’s mentoring program and inspires other teachers with her creativity and enthusiasm.
“She gives 110 percent to ensure that her students are successful and will one day become well-adjusted and productive members of society to the best of their ability.
Cool has been an educator for more than 30 years, the last six in her current position at the Pine Grove Learning Center. She earned a bachelor of science degree from Trenton State College and a master’s degree in special education from Oakland University. She also has taken courses in learning disabilities and autism at Calvin College and Grand Valley 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.