A Wayne County educator known for sharing his love of mathematics with his students and devoting time to community service projects and after-school activities, such as robotics competitions, has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Mario DiNicola, teaches math at New School High, a teacher-led charter school in Plymouth Township. DiNicola also was one of the founders of the school as well as its FIRST Robotics team and serves as the team’s coach.
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 $1,500 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, FOX 47 in Lansing, and WNEM-TV in Saginaw. The segment featuring DiNicola will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
DiNicola said a sense of personal responsibility prompted him to choose a career in education. “I teach because if I don’t do it, there are few who will. My goal is ambitious: to change the way education is run.”
He said his favorite parts of being an educator are being involved with the students in after-school activities. “With those activities, I can help students develop their social and emotional skills. Those skills are as important in life as content knowledge and they support learning.”
DiNicola said his commitment to revamping education motivates him to do his best every day. “I believe in what we do. I want our vision to succeed and it won’t succeed without a dedicated, passionate staff.”
A colleague nominated DiNicola for the Excellence in Education award, describing him as creative teacher who “is always thinking of engaging and humorous ways to teach, such as tossing hot dogs or playing Oregon Trail to gather data for exercises on statistics. Above all, Mario is dedicated to using his knowledge to convince teenagers that mathematics is beautiful and exciting discipline in which they can achieve success.”
The nomination noted that DiNicola designed the school’s math program, which focuses on “a deep understanding of mathematic concepts rather than rote learning. In my 44 years as an educator, I have never known anyone more patient, encouraging or persistent with students as Mario. He makes sure all students contribute to solving problems and gain confidence. In addition to math, he’s also responsible for helping our students learn to code and posting websites.
“Inside and outside the classroom, Mario is committed to restorative practices, holding himself and all students to a high standard of courtesy and civility. He will spend as much time as needed with students individually so they understand their responsibilities towards each other. All his actions are deliberate in their support of building a culture that is respectful, caring, and one in which all members are encouraged to take risks.”
The nomination added DiNicola also is involved in the school’s community service efforts, including an initiative to stop human trafficking, raising funds in memory of a slain Wayne State University police officer, and raking lawns for Make-A-Difference Day.
“His curiosity is boundless and I can think of no one who models the love of learning with the energy and enthusiasm of this amazing young teacher,” it said.
DiNicola earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Michigan State University. He has been an educator for six years, the last three with New School High.
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.