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Michigan Reading Association Elementary Teacher Award Recipients

2021-2022 Elementary Teacher Recipient

Gina Gemalsky - Onsted Community Schools, Onsted, MI

Determined, Committed and Invaluable describes this year's Elementary Education Award recipient, Gina Gemalsky  from Onsted Elementary School.  Literacy Coaches wear many hats.  Gina is no exception.  Gina’s leadership not only shines in her district, but she has shared her expertise with the middle and high school.  As a member of the Lenawee County District Coach Network; she has grown into a leader whom other district coaches respect and turn to for guidance

She has also dedicated time to facilitate the Summer Lit Lab Pop-up program.  This evidence-based eight-week program brings teachers, students and helps whole families learn to love learning and reading.  One school board member’s visit to her school stated, “Due to her work, the district can identify opportunities to reach every learner where they are.”

2020 Elementary Teacher Recipient


Heather Jensen – Harrison Community Schools, Harrison, MI

This year’s recipient of the Elementary Educator Award, Heather Jenson, of Harrison Community Schools not only exhibits a zest for learning and sharing her knowledge during this time but jumps and I mean jumps into action with a smile that is contagious. Her approach to educating her students during this roller coaster year has helped her students feel connected even though they are not face to face. She worked to ensure that each student felt that they were special and was there just for them.  Also, they could watch her posted snippets on social media using #publicschoolspride. Once back in the classroom her students were greeted by her personal classroom library that exceeds 3000 books.  She matched her students with special text so those who did not see themselves as readers and writers at the beginning were transformed through the power of the love of literacy. Her students   learned to recognize themselves as advocates of their own budding belief systems that they can change the world.  Heather skillfully uses literacy as a means of empowering the young people in her classroom with this approach.  This year has made her system extra special. Heather has been a very active member of the Michigan Reading Association by serving as a Region Rep and on many committees.  She has not only attended our conferences but has been there to help with all the many things that need to be done during the conference.  As an active member of MRA she has brought her energy, her great smile, and through her zest has helped MRA move forward during this difficult time. Please join MRA in congratulating Heather Jensen as this year’s Elementary Educator Award Recipient.

2018 Elementary Teacher Recipient

Taryn Eva – C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, Grand Rapids, MI

Kindergarten is that time when we all start our formal education.  That first day of school is not only scary for the little student, but for the parent as well.  This year’s Educator K-6 recipient is one of the special teachers that helps our students on the road to their formal education.  Taryn Lin Eva kindergarten teacher at C.A. Environmental Science Academy Grand Rapids Public Schools creates a classroom where her students jump through hoops to learn. Literally. she has hula hoops in their adventure to learn new words.   Her classroom has many pets, creative centers, and engaging technology as the school focuses on the STEM program. Eva is a Literacy coach for the district and has taught middle school English, Reading, and Science. As districts search for the best teachers to work in unique settings, they found Eva and she has never been happier as she infuses her love of science into everything she teaches. Eva not only opens the world to her students, but also gives her time to improve the whole school-community.   She supports teachers in the district with the Discovery Education program.  Filling a void at her school. she established a Girl Scout Troop and stepped into running the after-school robotics team. Please join the Michigan Reading Association in congratulating Taryn Lin Eva as the recipient of the Education K-6 Award.

2017 Elementary Teacher Recipients

     Damia Toyras – Superior Hills Elementary, Marquette, MI

“I have the privilege of spending every day with little people who have big hearts, endless potential and funny stories to tell.”  Damia Toyras, recipient of the MRA Educator K-6 Award, shares her passion for literacy in her classroom community every day by making it a priority. Her students are respected, loved and cared for as they celebrate their learning. Damia also creates opportunities for college undergraduates to visit her classroom to observe and participate in literacy best practices. In addition, she has created a professional book study through the Marquette Alger Reading Council. Congratulations Damia!

     Mary Sinclair – Aspen Ridge Elementary, Ishpeming, MI

How would you like to be a part of a classroom where puppies are part of the curriculum? Mary Sinclair has involved her kindergarten students in the training of nine different dogs. She encourages her student’s success by finding any means available to inspire them to accomplish more – even puppies. Mary is a leader in her school, district and community through  membership in the Marquette-Alger Reading Council and the Upper Peninsula Writing Project. Her work in the Kindergarten Round-Up led her to create a Kindergarten Entry Assessment. Her work to improve parent communication has led to teaching parents about appropriate activities for home. As one parent noted, “Mary has the ability to inspire each and every child in her classroom to accomplish more and find success.”

2016 Elementary Teacher Award Recipients

     Erika Morrison – Graveraet Elementary School, Marquette, MI

A deep understanding of “the nuts and bolts” of how to teach reading to beginning readers and to share her passion for promoting literacy among students, staff, parents and the community characterizes this year’s co-recipient of the Teacher K-6 Educator Award, Erika Morrison. Erika teaches at Graveraet Elementary in the Marquette Area Public Schools. We all know that expectations for kindergartners’ achievement in their first year in school have changed drastically since most of us were there. A parent shared with us that her twin boys’ experience in Erika’s classroom saw not only academic growth, but the important emotional and social growth that is so important in that first year of school. To help all students in the area look forward to reading and writing, Erika is co-directing the Young Authors’ Conference in Marquette this year. Congratulations to Erika Morrison from the Michigan Reading Association.

     Natalie Haezebrouck – Leonard Elementary School, Troy, MI

Taking the step from a classroom to a reading specialist role takes a master teacher and one who has the respect of the administration and staff. This year’s co-recipient of the Teacher K-6 Educator Award, Natalie Haezebrouck, from Leonard Elementary School, Troy School District took on this role with high expectations and vast knowledge. One parent shared that she could watch her child’s confidence and enthusiasm build after developing strategies with Ms. Haezebrouck over the course of the year. Natalie developed a Guided Reading Academy in her school. This academy brought teachers together to explore strategies that would be used in their classroom. Teachers viewed videos and through coaching and shared experiences, helped the students at Leonard reach new heights. Her unique Hit a Home Run strategy was adopted by the whole district. She blasted it out of the stadium. Congratulations to Natalie Haezebrouck from the Michigan Reading Association.

2015 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

     Sarah Shoemaker – Greenville Public Schools, Greenville, MI

When one is described as a voracious reader and researcher of literacy practices, you know she is always on the front-line, fighting for students no matter their abilities. Sarah Shoemaker, this year’s MRA recipient of the K-6 Educator Award, works with all students at Baldwin Heights Elementary in Greenville. Sarah’s successful grant writing ability added $10,000 of non-fiction books to their library. Sarah has been instrumental in managing and inspiring change in her building by serving as the building school improvement chair, whose work entails working with staff on monitoring instruction and measuring student learning. She has gone the extra mile by helping form a community organization leading the charge to have six little free libraries installed around the community. The students at Baldwin Heights have a teacher that helps tailor their instruction to their needs.

2014 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Belinda Clearly     Belinda Cleary – Summit Academy North, Romulus, MI

The goal for all educators is to build amazing rapport with students by motivating and challenging them at the same time. This year’s recipient of the MRA Educator Award is Belinda Cleary from Summit Academy in Romulus. Belinda is working with 6th graders this year but has had experience with 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th grade students. With this experience, she has shared and brainstormed ideas for working with at-risk students. Her passion has not stopped there; she has presented at MRA, MACUL, and NSTA. She has also worked with ELL adults in the Dearborn community. The Award Committee received many letters from Belinda’s students.  One of her quotes, shared by her student, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over.” Guadalupe Serrato, a parent, wrote, “An award would probably not be enough to show my thanks towards Mrs. Cleary for impacting my son so positively, but it is a good start.”  The Michigan Reading Association agreed it is a good start, and are honored to present Belinda Cleary with the Michigan Reading Association Educator Award this year.

2013 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Claudette Daniels     Claudette Daniels – Doherty Elementary, West Bloomfield, MI

“I have never been as awed by an individual’s work ethic and wisdom as I have been by those of Mrs. Claudette Daniels,” states a colleague of this year recipient of the Teacher Educator K-6 Award, Claudette Daniels of Doherty Elementary in West Bloomfield. She engages students in daily interactive read alouds with multicultural, award winning and relevant text. Claudette shares her knowledge and love of literacy with students at Madonna University and as a role model to both in-service and pre-service teachers. Claudette’s love of poetry is a large part of her life, daily instruction and classroom environment.  Parents are delighted to overhear their children reciting poems, in the shower, at sleepovers and driving in the car. As one parent wrote, “one can only hope and pray someone like Mrs. Daniels will touch their child’s life” “I know my child is better for having her in his life.” As a friend, as a colleague, as a teacher and advocate of reading, Claudette is a rare and treasured find.

2011 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Alexander McNeece – Douglas Elementary 3-4 Campus, Garden City, MI

In his own words, the recipient of the Elementary Administrator’s Award “is a product of the Michigan Reading Association.” Alexander McNeece, this year’s recipient, started attending the conferences at the age of 12 with his mother, Valerie McNeece. His love of reading and writing has continued, and today Alexander is the principal at Douglas Elementary School in Garden City. As curricular leader he has designed and implemented a total literacy program that involves students in reading, writing and presenting newsflashes. These videotapes are shared in his building and on the district’s cable station, and they have brought literacy alive for staff, students, and parents. Alexander has authored three books: Sam Iver: Imminent Threat; Ryan and Ruby go to Kindergarten, and Read to Me, Daddy: My First Football Book. His love of teaching brings him back into the classroom to share his personal writing process and his love of reading. As one of his teachers said, “It has been exciting to see the positive changes at Douglas under his passionate leadership.”

2010 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Marsha Page – Sandy Knoll Elementary School, Marquette, MI

“If the Pied Piper had the heart and talents of this year’s Teacher Educator K-6, he would have led the children of Hamlin down Literacy Lane skipping and singing praises of the wonderful adventures that lay ahead in stories and books.” These words are from a colleague of Marsha Page, who is a second grade teacher at Sandy Knoll Elementary in Marquette. She is the Pied Piper at her school, and this year’s recipient for the Educator K-6 Award. Story comes alive in a classroom that wears children’s stories all over its walls, and through Marsha’s marvelous storytelling abilities. The Marquette Literacy Committee, Curriculum Council, and the National Writing Project have benefited from her expert advice on developing a curriculum for schools.

2009 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Ann Diller – Polk School in Dearborn Heights #7, Dearborn, MI

Ann Diller, third grade teacher at Polk School-Dearborn Heights #7, is the Teacher Educator K-6 award recipient for 2008. She is often described creative, dependable, and hardworking. Through her leadership, Ann effectively helps others understand that a changing world requires changing practices in literacy. These changes are evident by a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning and an environment where students feel successful. Her principal, observing her classroom, wrote: “Your lesson was outstanding. You scaffold students learning very well and made the learning explicit and fun by visually demonstrating the big idea and details.” Ann is a stellar model literacy teacher.

2008 Elementary Teacher Award Recipient

Lucy Harrington – Superior Hills Elementary, Marquette, MI

“Lucy has the biggest smile! She brings her enthusiasm for life and learning with her wherever she goes.” These words describe this year’s recipient of the Educator Award – Teacher K-6. Lucy teaches at Superior Hills Elementary in Marquette. She has been an advocate for literacy for over three decades. One of her most interesting and valuable causes was raising money to establish a library in the town of Tolo, Guinea. This project came about when her students began communicating with her daughter, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tolo. Her students wrote letters to the students in this village, which turned into the wonderful project of raising over $3000 for the first library in this remote village. Lucy has authored two MRA publications. Lucy has touched not only students living in Marquette, but also helped to promote literacy in a small village in Africa. The Michigan Reading Association congratulates Lucy Harrington as the Educator Award – Teacher K-6 recipient for 2007.

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