Van Buren County Educator Wins Excellence in Education Award from the Michigan Lottery

A Van Buren County educator known for embracing virtual learning and keeping her students engaged has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

The award winner, Nikki Clemons, is a first-grade teacher at Paw Paw Early Elementary, which is part of the Paw Paw Public School 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 Clemons will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.

Clemons said her desire to be creative and make a difference led her to a career in education.

“I wanted to be creative and make a difference. I wanted to teach in a way that each student can learn, which means teaching in many different ways. I wanted to make learning fun and exciting for everyone.”

She said building relationships with each of her students is her favorite part of being an educator.

“Creating relationships with each of my students and making real connections are two of the most rewarding things for me as a teacher. I love looking at the growth for each of my students from the beginning of the year to the very last day. That moment when they realize all that they did and can do is amazing.”

A grandmother of a student nominated Clemons for the award. The nomination cited her ability to adapt to virtual learning and keeping her students engaged.

“Teaching first graders is a challenge in itself, as students are just learning a sense of independence. With the added chaos of the pandemic, the challenges are even more. I have had the opportunity to hear the interactions of Mrs. Clemons virtual classes being held and as a grandmother of one of her students, it brought tears to my eyes observing just how much she cares about her students.

She has done an exceptional job ensuring that all of her students are on the Zoom calls and able to participate. When one of the students isn’t necessarily speaking up during class, she is checking in with them, to ensure that every student is heard. Mrs. Clemons takes the extra time needed with each of the kids to make them feel as comfortable as they can be to learn in this challenging situation. She takes the time to listen to her students even when they need to be moving on to the next assignment or subject.

Mrs. Clemons is doing a fabulous job at keeping the kids engaged while in class and it shows in the way her students talk to her and want to share so much with her. It is comforting to know that when my granddaughter goes to class, whether in person or virtually, she is in good hands and eager to go. I know that a lot of that has to do with the relationship she has with her teacher.”

Clemons earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees from Western Michigan University. She has been an educator for eight years. This is her first year with Paw Paw Early Elementary.

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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