Michigan Lottery Program Names Grand Rapids Area Teacher 2022 Educator Of The Year

Written By Julie Walker on June 7, 2022
Michigan Lottery Educator of the Year

The Michigan Lottery has crowned high school teacher Spencer Vanderheide as its Educator of the Year for 2022. The annual honor is presented on behalf of the lottery’s Excellence in Education program and comes with a $10,000 prize.

Vanderheide, who teaches at Kenowa Hills High School, was one of 34 weekly winners of the contest designed recognize outstanding public school teachers.

Family nomination highlighted new course creation

Hundreds of Michigan educators were nominated for the award program that began in 2014. For Vanderheide’s nomination, a family member wrote the following about the good his new course had done:

“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 … 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 … In a year plagued with so much despair, Spencer brought his students a glimpse of hope.”

Vanderheide, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Hope College and a master’s degree from Western Michigan, has spent all nine years of his teaching career at Kenowa Hills High School. Principal Nate Robrahn offered accolades for the award.

“Mr. Vanderheide has had an incredible positive impact on the students at Kenowa Hills High School,” Robrahn said in a release. “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.”

Vanderheide called to career in education

The 2022 Educator of the Year said the ability to help students reach their full potential drew him to teaching.

“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,” Vanderheide said. “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.”

Lottery Commissioner Brian O. Neill presented the award to Vanderheide.

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

Annual honoree chosen from weekly winners

Each week, the Excellence in Education program awards one Michigan teacher a plaque, a $1,500 cash prize, and $500 grant to their class, school or district. All winners get featured in a weekly TV news segment with the Lotto’s media partners, including WXYZ in Detroit. The annual award winner is picked from a pool of the 34 weekly winners.

The nominees are based on criteria including excellence in the classroom, dedication to their students, leadership skills, effectiveness and if their work inspires others.

Past Educator of the Year winners 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.

Michigan Lottery gives schools $1.419 Billion for school aid

The state’s lottery program has consistently outdone itself the past three years, contributing more than $1 billion dollars in each of those three years to the School Aid Fund.

The record $1.419 billion-dollar contribution for fiscal year 2021 was $240 million more than in 2020, which also was a record-breaking year.

Lottery contributions to the School Aid Fund over the prior six years were:

  • 2020: $1.179 billion
  • 2019: $1.070 billion
  • 2018:  $941.2 million
  • 2017:  $924.1 million
  • 2016:  $888.9 million
  • 2015:  $795.5 million

Photo by Michigan Lottery
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Julie Walker

Julie has written, edited and designed words at five Michigan newspapers and websites. She’s worked on two sports desks, including at The Oakland Press and most recently at The Detroit News. Julie has contributed to stories on many big sports moments, from the NFL’s 100th season to Super Bowls to Justin Verlander’s trade to the closing of the Palace of Auburn Hills.  Julie loves lakes, bonfires, Dachshunds, coaching Little League and carrying on her Dad’s fantasy football legacy that he started in 1987 — before there was an app for that.

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