Grand Rapids Educator Wins 2022 Educator of the Year Award and $10,000 Prize from the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence in Education Program

Lottery Commissioner Brian O. Neill and Educator of the Year Spencer VanderheideA Grand Rapids educator has won the 2022 Educator of the Year award and a $10,000 prize from the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence In Education program.

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

Vanderheide has been an educator with Kenowa Hills High School for nine years. 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,” said Vanderheide. “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.

“I am honored and humbled to be recognized as the Michigan Lottery’s 2022 Educator of the Year. It’s a privilege to work with my students each day and watch them flourish in and out of the classroom. Having a meaningful impact on their lives and our community is incredibly rewarding.”

“Congratulations to Mr. Vanderheide from Kenowa Hills High!” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “A Kent County high school teacher, Mr. Vanderheide created an elective course called Knight L.I.F.E. focused on emotional intelligence and mental health, which is a priority we all share—parents, students, school staff, and policymakers. Mr. Vanderheide’s initiative was a runaway success and made a meaningful difference in his students’ lives. He is an exceptional example of Michigan’s extraordinary educators, and I am so grateful to him, and all our teachers who go above and beyond for our kids.”

“Governor Whitmer and I are proud to join the Michigan Lottery in awarding the Educator of the Year award to Mr. Vanderheide,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. “Mr. Vanderheide’s work to support his students’ emotional intelligence and mental health sets an example for educators throughout our state. Congratulations to Mr. Vanderheide!”

Lottery Commissioner, Brian O. Neill, recently presented Vanderheide with the award.

“His dedication and compassion have made a positive and lasting impact on the lives of so many students at Kenowa Hills,” said Commissioner Neill. “We are very pleased to name Spencer Vanderheide the Michigan Lottery Educator of the Year.”

“Mr. Vanderheide has had an incredible positive impact on the students at Kenowa Hills High School,” said principal, Nate Robrahn. “Each day, he encourages students to be their best selves and reminds them that they are enough just as they are. I cannot think of a more deserving educator to be the Michigan Lottery’s Educator of the Year.”

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, 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 did not 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.

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. 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.

Each year, one of the weekly winners is selected as the Educator of the Year and receives a $10,000 prize.

Hundreds of educators from across the state were nominated for an Excellence in Education weekly award during the eighth year of the program and 34, including Vanderheide, were selected to win a weekly award.

Previous winners of the Educator of the Year award were:

2021 – Janice Smith, a school social worker at Fisher Magnet Lower Academy in Detroit.

2020 – Megan Sidge, an Autism Spectrum Disorder teacher at Hickory Woods Elementary in Walled Lake.

2019 – Stewart Kieliszewski, an Earth science, biology, mechatronics, and media teacher for eighth through 12 graders at the Ubly Community Schools.

2018 – Kerri Moccio, a first-grade literacy intervention specialist at Bedford Elementary School in Dearborn Heights.

2017 – Linda Holzwarth, a social studies teacher at Portage West Middle School in Portage.

2016 – Daniel Carr, a Spanish and sports marketing teacher at Waverly High School in Lansing.

2015 – Michael Craig, a special education teacher at the Charles Drew Transition Center in Detroit.

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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