The award winner, Jenna Betka-Pope, is a middle school special education teacher at Excel Charter Academy in Grand Rapids.
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 Betka-Pope will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
Betka-Pope said a volunteer experience at a young age led her to a career in special education.
“When I was about 12 years old, I volunteered as a Teacher Assistant at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre for their summer camps. I had the opportunity to work with an individual with a disability during my first week, and it was incredibly eye-opening for me,” said Betka-Pope. “While this individual had different needs than the other campers, he had so many strengths and performed in the showcase at the end of the week. I began my educational journey during that week, and I have continued to feel very passionately about advocating for those with varying needs since that time.”
She said her favorite parts of being an educator are “forming relationships with my students and watching them realize how much potential they have when they are set up for success. It is so incredible when students see how they are progressing and feel that they have an educator in their corner.”
Betka-Pope was nominated for the award by her sister. The nomination cited her passion and dedication to advocating for those with special needs.
“She has advocated for students to receive accommodations, and also challenges them to move beyond them as they learn new ways to thrive with their learning disabilities. She often visits local high schools to talk to other special education teachers so that she can help her students find the right fit for them. Many students return to Excel to visit with her, and she stays connected with parents who reach out to her years after their students were in her care for advice.
“When Jenna speaks about her students, I believe that they can truly do anything they want to do. She advocates for a world that will let them. She has established Low-Sensory nights at places like Grand Rapids Civic Theatre so that her students and other young people and adults with disabilities have equitable opportunities to experience art, work, love, and life.”
Betka-Pope earned a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University, and is currently working towards a master’s degree from Grand Valley State University. She has been an educator for five years, all with Excel Charter Academy.
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.