An Oakland County educator known for her dedication to help students with unique learning abilities improve their literacy skills and for leading community service projects, such as a FREE store to serve all students at her school while promoting recycling, has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Dawn Hayes, teaches language arts and study skills at Athens High School, which is part of the Troy School District. She has been a member of the Oakland Schools Literacy Leadership Committee since 2014 and was nominated for teacher of the year in 2016 and 2017.
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 Hayes 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 presented Hayes with the award at the Breslin Center.
Hayes, who has been an educator for nearly three decades, said she was attracted to a career in education by her “desire to make a difference in the lives of students with special needs. Then, after 10 years of teaching, I was blessed with my three children, including one who has Down syndrome.”
She said her favorite part of being an educator is knowing students all four years of high school and “seeing them develop and change, experience success plus I value the lifelong, meaningful relationships I am able to form.
“What motivates me is the knowledge that the need never goes away. There is always work to do in the educational profession. I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me!” she said, adding that literacy is crucial for education and in life.
“We live in world built by words. Words are everywhere! If you struggle to read them at grade level, you want to hide from them. You might want to hide from the world. In my class, we are honest. We talk about the fact that reading is the basis for our future success and my students learn how passionately I want the highest level of success to be within their reach,” she said.
“We watch a video that states more than 70 percent of people in prison can’t read above a fourth grade reading level and one in four eighth graders cannot read above a fourth grade level. In my room, we read to get better than the day before. We address individual skills and deficits head-on. We encourage one another and cultivate a collaborative environment where taking risks feels safe and personal success makes the whole class feel great. Literacy is critical in a text-driven, media saturated world and reading is a skill they will use daily for the rest of their lives.”
Hayes said the FREE store grew out of her practice of bringing in gently used items to share with her students. “Many of my students struggled to look like their peers in terms of clothing and they were so appreciative.
“Next, I looked at the idea of starting a recycling store for all items, including clothing, books, housewares, curling irons, sunglasses and so on. I learned the average person throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year and five percent of the trash on Earth is used textiles. So, I blended the need in our building with the desire to be environmentally responsible and hoped by being green, we could help one another.
“The response was overwhelming. We have never run out of items and have had thousands of shopper visits, she said. “We have cultivated a culture of caring about one another. There’s a special message on the sign of the store: ‘Live well – Give well.’”
Several colleagues of Hayes nominated her for the Excellence in Education award with one describing her as “an everyday hero.”
“Dawn Hayes defines dedication when it comes to academic progress. Dawn’s persistence in and out of the classroom results in noteworthy progress in both places,” one nomination said, noting that the improved reading ability of her students resulted in awards for her performance in 2015 and 2016.
“True heroes inspire others. An everyday hero makes an outstanding impact, but does it in seemingly effortless ways. Seeing Mrs. Hayes having fun, staying positive and thinking of others daily is infectiously inspirational!
“When students watch Mrs. Hayes in action at Athens High School in the FREE recycling store she started for all, or in the summer doing charity for a Troy School District family that lost a precious daughter, they dive at the chance to be a part of anything she does!”
One nomination noted that “Dawn has a soft spot for students who are in financial or emotional need and she does everything in her power to advocate and create change.”
“In the classroom, Dawn is a highly effective teacher. She is constantly seeking avenues to further hone her ability to help students achieve more,” one nomination said. “Her knowledge of best practices is impressive. Equally impressive is her ability to create a beautiful environment where students safely challenge themselves and readily share their learning. Dawn is deeply committed to Athens High School and Troy and deeply committed to making Athens High School a better place year after year.”
“In the classroom, Dawn is a highly effective teacher. She is constantly seeking avenues to further hone her ability to help students achieve more,” one nomination said. “Her knowledge of best practices is impressive. Equally impressive is her ability to create a beautiful environment where students safely challenge themselves and readily share their learning. Dawn is committed to the entire community of Troy and deeply committed to making Athens High School a better place year after year.”
Hayes earned a bachelor of science degree from Grand Valley State University with a double major in psychology and special education. She also has earned a master’s degree in reading and language arts from Oakland University. She has been an educator for 27 years, the last 21 years with the Troy School District. She has a You Tube channel with short videos about the FREE store and other community service projects: http://bit.ly/2qpsENI.
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.