A Midland County educator known for her commitment to help troubled students succeed in the classroom and mature as individuals and for her efforts to help their families has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Wendy Thomas, teaches special education world history and math for seventh grade through 12th grade students at the Midland Juvenile Day Treatment School. Students attend the school under court orders when their continued misbehaviors get them suspended or expelled from other schools.
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 Thomas will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
Thomas said her “passion to serve others” led her to a career in education. “I can’t think of a more rewarding job than in the field of education, especially in my current position where I have the opportunity to instill the value of education in the minds of at-risk youth.”
She added that her favorite parts of being an educator are “the relationships that I build with youth.”
Thomas said her personal commitment to meet the needs of her students and help address the challenges that they face in their lives each day motivates her to give her best.
“I teach in a maximum security detention facility. I am responsible for adjudicated youth in our Day Treatment Program. Teaching, at times, can be secondary. At times, my primary focus is ensuring that the basic needs of my students are being met,” she said.
“I have a tremendous support system from Midland County that allows me to be the best version of myself and that allows me to be the best educator possible. I put everything I have into my job, but most of all, my heart. I know, that for my students, education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty and allow them to escape the life that they feel that they are hopelessly stuck in. I am lucky that I can get up every morning and look forward to spending time with my ‘second family.’ That to me is worth its weight in gold.”
A colleague nominated Thomas for the Excellence in Education award, describing her as a “one-of-a-kind teacher who sees the potential in students and tells them they can become whatever they want to be.
“It is not always an easy task to be an educator to children who have been exposed to traumas. Wendy assists students to remove barriers and helps them to overcome their negative situations by encouraging them to set academic goals and work hard to achieve their dreams. She gives her students hope and builds their self-esteem, giving them the confidence they need to improve their academics,” she wrote.
“She truly meets students where they are at and engages students to learn in a positive environment that supports learning on all levels. She is a great role model, leader and an amazing educator and leader who never gives up on her students. She sets reasonable expectations for her students and encourages and supports them to reach those expectations.
“Wendy never judges her students. Wendy never talks down to her students and is encouraging and supportive to all her students. She takes the time to make sure they understand what she is teaching them. She makes the time to meet individually with her students and makes them feel she cares for them. She goes out of her way to ensure their basic needs are met and has brought in clothes and shoes for some of her students,” the nomination said.
“Wendy is loving, caring, and polite. She treats her students with respect and they in turn respect her. She has a way of using humor to cheer up her students and helps them to cope with the many stressors in life.”
The nomination noted that Thomas also works to help the families of students, for example, securing a grant “to provide all of our students and their families with a Thanksgiving basket that included a turkey and all the fixings needed for a Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, Wendy and her students planned and cooked a Thanksgiving meal for all the students’ families.”
Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in special education with a minor in learning disabilities (emotional impairment) and reading. She went on to earn a master’s degree in special education. She has been an educator for 22 years, the past 19 with the Midland Public Schools.
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.