A Monroe County educator known for using creative approaches to meet the varied academic and behavioral needs of her special education students and for creating a program to boost their interaction with other students has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Jennifer Black, is a special education teacher for the Monroe County Intermediate School District and is based at the Ida Middle School.
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 is 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 Black 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, who recently presented Black with the award at the Breslin Center.
Black said she chose a career in education “because I love teaching and the special education students stole my heart. They are always so happy and cheerful and ready to share their wisdom.”
“The students are my favorite part of being an educator. Each student is unique and learns in their own way. I enjoy learning what makes each of my students tick. Once I figure that out, they grow,” she said.
“I enjoy all we do and the kids make it fun. I learn so much from them. Rarely are they worried about failure and are always ready to try something again. They find the positive even in mistakes. My students offer a big fun factor!”
A colleague nominated Black for the Excellence in Education award, describing her as exemplifying “the traits of excellence, dedication, inspiration, leadership and effectiveness through her academic and extracurricular pursuits on behalf of her students. In the process, she also is helping the general education students to gain valuable life lessons as well.”
“The students in her class are fifth- to eighth-graders who have diagnoses of ADHD, autism, emotional impairment, cognitive impairment, and learning disabilities. It is difficult to manage a classroom with such varied academic knowledge and motivational challenges, but Jennifer does so with just the right mix of humor, flexibility, and experience,” the nomination said.
“She utilizes an ‘explore/teach/guided exploration/apply’ strategy when possible with her lessons, so that her students with their varying abilities, really get involved in the lessons and become motivated to learn more.”
The nomination went on to say: “Jennifer is dedicated to helping her students have outstanding academic and social opportunities as part of their middle school experience. She coached her class to victory in this year’s Monroe County Quiz Bowl. She takes her class to Special Olympics bowling and track and field events each year. She encourages general education peers to hang out in her classroom during choice time to play games with and model social skills for her students. She started an after-school group called Unify to help students with special needs have social experiences with typical middle school peers in fun, sport- themed activities such as bowling and bocce.
“Jennifer’s efforts to provide academic and social opportunities for her students is helping them to gain confidence in their abilities. She empowers them and this feeling of empowerment allows them to feel like they fit in and feel good about their school experience. She also is changing the way general education students see students in special education. After spending time with her students in the classroom or at an after school bocce game, general education students learn valuable lessons about patience, empathy, and diversity that transfer to any future academic or work environment.”
Black earned a bachelor degree in education with a special education endorsement from Eastern Michigan University. She also earned a master’s degree in reading from Eastern Michigan. She has been an educator for 23 years, the last 17 with the Monroe County Intermediate School District and based at the Ida Middle School.
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.