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

Spencer VanderheideA Kent County educator known for creating a curriculum focused on students’ emotional intelligence and wellbeing has been honored with an Excellence In Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

The award winner, Spencer Vanderheide, is a high school teacher with Kenowa Hills High School. The school is part of Kenowa Hills Public Schools.

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 Vanderheide will air this evening.

Vanderheide said he was drawn to a career in education because he could help students reach their full potential.

“Teaching is a career that gives me the opportunity to support and encourage students while empowering them to recognize and then reach their full potential. I often remind students: ‘You are enough. You matter. You are worth it. You are known and loved.’ By doing that, it helps students learn to be comfortable in who they are and builds their confidence.”

A family member nominated Vanderheide for the award. The nomination cited his creation of a new course focused on students’ emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

“Spencer Vanderheide has dedicated his life to education for a decade. In recent years, however, he began to see a disheartening trend. While education has remained the same over the years, student anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have skyrocketed over the decade. These statistics didn’t sit right with Spencer, and in early 2020 he began to ask: ‘What are schools doing about this?’

“A new course called Knight L.I.F.E. (Leadership. Innovation. Future. Education) was born under his leadership.

“It wasn’t just born, it thrived. 184 students used their one elective credit to sign up for the course, which was enough for school administration to create four entirely full sections of the course. The positive effects were seen immediately in the hallways.

“In a year plagued with so much despair, Spencer brought his students a glimpse of hope. He provides them with hope and encouragement to keep going in each lesson.”

Vanderheide earned a bachelor’s degree from Hope College and a master’s degree from Western Michigan University. He has been an educator for nine years, all nine with Kenowa Hills High School.

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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