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

Mary Phillips holding $1,500 Excellence in Education checkA Van Buren County educator known for incorporating esports into her elementary curriculum has been honored with an Excellence In Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

The award winner, Mary Phillips, is an elementary STEM teacher with North Shore Elementary. The school is part of South Haven 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 Phillips will air this evening.

Phillips says her love of working with children led her to a career in education.

“As a young person, I wanted to be a teacher because I loved working with children. In my classroom now, I see myself as the “responsible adult in the room,” but I am not always the “teacher.” I see learning as an adventure everyone in the classroom takes together. Sometimes I have knowledge to share, sometimes my students have knowledge to share, and sometimes we jump in and learn together. There are so many wonderful things to learn about our world that it can’t possibly fit in 13 years of school. I am not afraid to say “I don’t know” because I want my students to see learning as something they’ll do for the rest of their lives.”

Phillips says her elementary esports unit is her favorite to teach.

“In my classroom, my elementary esports unit is my favorite unit that I teach. During this unit, my classroom becomes home to the North Shore Elementary Esports League, a community of gamers dedicated to learning healthy gamer habits and creating gaming spaces that are welcoming and inclusive. Our vision is simple: we play video games to have fun and we all play a role in keeping video games fun for everyone. During the unit, the iCreate lab becomes the hub of our esports season. Students are gamers and also the team coaches, marketing managers, shoutcasters, graphic designers, and IT support. I serve as the league commissioner and keep everything organized and on schedule.”

A family member nominated Phillips for the award. The nomination cited the leading role she has played in developing esports for schools around the world.

“Mary was selected as one of 30 scholastic esports fellows worldwide last school year. In that role, she collaborated with educators around the globe on best integrating esports into their classroom. Additionally, she wrote an elementary esports curriculum that is designed to help students understand the multitude of jobs and opportunities that go along with the esports field. Mary also runs a two-week esports camp that integrates concepts of farming with Minecraft. This camp has received national attention for the effective integration of digital and non-digital content. She is a respected leader in the educational technology community and should be awarded this honor to highlight the work that she does to enhance the education of all of her students.”

Phillips earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, both from Western Michigan University. She has been an educator for 18 years, including seven in her current position.

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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