Kent County Educator Wins Excellence in Education Award from the Michigan Lottery

Kaitlin Merpi (right) poses for a photo with Michigan Lottery public relations director, Jeff Holyfield, after accepting her Excellence in Education Award.

Kaitlin Merpi (right) poses for a photo with Michigan Lottery public relations director, Jeff Holyfield, after accepting her Excellence in Education Award.

A Kent County educator known for using technology and activities, including robotics and an online math club, to instill a love of math and science in her students and for sharing her expertise with colleagues has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

The award winner, Kaitlin Merpi, teaches fourth grade at Lakeside Elementary, which is part of the East Grand Rapids Public Schools. Merpi attended Lakeside Elementary as a child and was nominated for the Excellence in Education award by a colleague who was teaching at the school when she was a student.

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 Merpi will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.

Merpi said a teacher inspired her to pursue a career in education.  “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since the first grade.  My first grade teacher made me excited to come to school every day and I wanted to be that person for my students.”

She said her favorite part of being a teacher is “spending every day with kids! I love inspiring kids to love learning and showing them that it can be fun.”

Merpi said that her students motivate her to do her best every day.  “As an educator, it is a privilege to be entrusted with kids for eight hours a day.  It’s a job I don’t take lightly.  It is so inspiring to watch a struggling student finally have a ‘light bulb’ moment and feel proud of what they have accomplished.  I get the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of my students every single day and that motivates me to make every day in my classroom the best day ever!

“I incorporate a wide variety of technology in my classroom on a daily basis. Whether it is coding, or Ozobots, or Google classroom related, using technology motivates students, challenges them, and encourages collaboration,” she said.  “I often find that students who may not ‘traditionally’ excel academically, connect to activities like coding and web development and get the much needed opportunity to be leaders in the classroom.”

The colleague who nominated Merpi for the Excellence in Education award said “she excels in her math instruction and her innovative uses of technology in the classroom.”

Kaitlin Merpi is interviewed after being presented with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

Kaitlin Merpi is interviewed after being presented with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

“Kaitlin coaches a fourth grade math team that participates in contests through the Online Math League. This club has grown so popular that even though it is optional, the vast majority of fourth graders at Lakeside Elementary choose to join the team and have fun working on challenging math problems in official practices and competitions throughout the year,” the nomination said, adding:  “Mrs. Merpi’s math team has won multiple national championships thanks to her inspiring leadership!”

The nomination said Merpi uses technology in innovative ways to enhance learning and motivate students.  For example, she uses a robotics program, web design, plus a class Facebook page to communicate with students’ families and keep them connected to her classroom.

The student demand for learning about technology was so high that Merpi ran two summer camps in 2017 for robotics and web design and those camps attracted many East Grand Rapids elementary students, the nomination said.

“Mrs. Merpi doesn’t keep her technology prowess to herself. She is a leader in East Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has given generously of her time to train other teachers throughout her building and the district in everything from Google Classroom to using Interactive Smart Boards to mastering the finer points of Google Drive. She is a true leader who inspires not only her students but the other staff members around her.

“Improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is a critical goal for the state of Michigan and Kaitlin Merpi is a perfect example of the kind of educator who is already doing exactly that in her classroom,” the nomination said.

Merpi earned a bachelor of arts degree in language arts from Hope College and an educational technology endorsement from Michigan State University.  She has been an educator for eight years, all with the East Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Outstanding public school educators may be nominated for an Excellence in Education award at 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.
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