An Oakland County educator known for his dedication to help students reach their potential in the classroom and in their personal lives has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Brian Zezula, is a social studies teacher at Clarkston High School. Zezula also served as a varsity assistant football coach for six years at the high school and was a member of the staff that guided Clarkston to its first two state championships.
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 Zezula will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
Zezula said he was attracted to a career in education because of the opportunities “to help young people realize their incredible potential.”
He said his favorite parts of being an educator are “seeing the smiles when students try something new and when they are so excited to have their dreams come true!”
Zezula said his students motivate him to do his best each day. “I know that the human connection between teacher and student is so important to young people and that how I interact with them can be so influential in their lives that it fuels me to push myself for their benefit.”
A colleague nominated Zezula for the Excellence in Education award, saying along with the academic subjects that he teaches “it is the life lessons that he conveys that former students often cite when they talk about their experiences with him.”
“A former student noted: ‘You always encouraged us to go above and beyond expectations. You gave us tips on life. You helped me realize that if you want something to happen, you must go out there and do it yourself. Now, I work above the normal and put myself in situations that will give me many opportunities. Thank you for all your wonderful advice and encouraging all of us to do our best,’” the nomination said.
Another student credited Zezula’s encouragement for keeping him in school. “’Every word of encouragement you threw at me made the difference and I can’t describe how thankful I am to have you as my teacher. Thank you for not giving up on me when everyone else thought I couldn’t stay on the right path,’” the nomination said.
“Brian demonstrates this attitude of going above and beyond in his teaching career. He served as the Student Council Advisor/LEADERSHIP class teacher. In that role, he has worked to oversee numerous fundraisers and a Red Cross blood drive at the school,” the nomination said.
“While teaching modern U.S. history at Clarkston Junior High School, Brian began the honors history class. He was also instrumental in beginning the Veterans Assembly Day at the school, and recruited veterans of World War II to speak with ninth grade students about their wartime experiences.
Outside the classroom, Zezula worked to support the passage of a school bond proposal and those funds “have allowed the district to perform major repairs and upgrades to the school buildings and grounds. He also served on the Parent Teacher Student Association legislative council and on Clarkston Coalition of Youth.”
Zezula earned a bachelor of arts degree from Albion College, an education certificate from Oakland University, and a master’s degree from Marygrove College. He has been an educator for 19 years, the past 17 with the Clarkston School District.
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.