A Wayne County educator known for his tireless efforts to help students grow academically and as individuals and for caring about each student – even identifying one considering suicide – has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Richard VanAcker, is an eighth-grade mathematics teacher at Davison Elementary/ Middle School in Detroit. The school is part of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
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 news segment featuring VanAcker will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
VanAcker said his mother recognized his talent for teaching when he was a boy. “At an early age, my mother would repeatedly tell me that someday I would make an excellent teacher. She decided that because she would look to me to entertain the younger kids at birthday parties and family functions and I was able to keep them occupied and happy.”
He said his favorite parts of being a teacher are “being able to share my passion for mathematics with students and even more than that, serving as an adult role model. That’s important in my school because so many of my students have few, if any, adults to look up to.”
VanAcker said his students motivate him to do his best every day. “I look forward each day to the smiles on my students’ faces. I love being able to be on stage and be an ‘actor’ for my students. I also look forward to the daily conversations that I have with students. There’s never a dull moment with eighth graders.”
The mother of a student nominated VanAcker for the Excellence in Education award, saying “he pours his heart into teaching.”
“Mr. VanAcker cares. He demanded each child enter a project in the science fair. And to eliminate excuses, he suggested a bunch of different possible projects, provided all the supplies, and arranged for the kids to work together to get their projects done,” the nomination said.
“He was so proud of them. It was really important to him that they proved to themselves that they were smart. He saw them as young scientists, creating their own work.”
The mother wrote that her son was depressed and VanAcker alerted her and her husband that he was planning to commit suicide. “My son was blessed to be his student. This big white guy, teaching in a predominantly black school, could see what neither my husband nor I could. Mr. VanAcker saw a little brown boy whispering for help! Drowning in negative emotions and eloquently penning his own obituary.”
VanAcker read the student’s journal and a poem, “deciphered the meaning and alerted me of his suspicion that my son was contemplating suicide. Thank God for Mr. VanAcker! Because of him, my son is alive. We got him counseling and he still struggles with depression and is learning to manage it,” she wrote.
“My son doesn’t speak of Mr. VanAcker often, but when he does, he always says he was a good teacher and he made class fun. My son knows what Mr. VanAcker did for him. Not every teacher cares. Mr. VanAcker does.”
VanAcker earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Central Michigan University and a master of science degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Detroit Mercy. He has been an educator for 23 years, all with the Detroit Public Schools.
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.