MICHIGAN CITY – School spirit was evident Tuesday night as the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce presented its 2018 Educators of the Year Awards to local teachers.

The second annual event at Blue Chip Casino Stardust Event Center recognized outstanding contributions to education in the community.

Michigan City High School German teacher Dan Ruth and Edgewood Elementary Principal Peggy Thomas received Lifetime Achievement Awards for their years of educational leadership and dedication to students.

Five MCAS professionals received Outstanding Educators Awards: Edgewood kindergarten teacher Teresa Pavloff, Marsh Elementary counselor Bob Eghbali, Krueger Middle School environmental science teacher Daisy Lee, Edgewood third-grade Teacher Sheri Tuesburg, and Knapp Elementary sixth-grade teacher Mike Maesch.

“The nominations review committee had many deserving, dedicated teachers and successful programs to choose from,” said Chamber Board President Charlie Keene.

Maggi Spartz, president of the Unity Foundation of La Porte County and one of the judges, said the winners “demonstrated in one way or another that they were going above and beyond.”

Before MCAS Supt. Barbara Easton-Watkins introduced recipients, she thanked the Chamber: “Michigan City is blessed because here in our community, businesses are true partners in our work. You have shown us that you value our collective future, our greatest resource, our children. Tonight we are here to honor the outstanding work of educators who make a difference each and every day. Thank you to the sponsors tonight and for shining a spotlight on our too often unsung heroes!”

As Eason-Watkins introduced honorees, she began with what yearbook superlative they would each give themselves. For Ruth, his choice was simply “Herr,” (German for Sir) the name he’s known as by many former students.

He’s taught German at MCHS for 44 years and started the German American Partnership Program more than 40 years ago. This allows third- and fourth-year MCHS students to travel to Pffafenhofen, Germany; and host German students for three weeks in the spring.

“The GAPP exchange has resulted in lifelong friendships and rich cultural experiences for more than 1,200 students,” said Eason-Watkins.

Herr has also chaired the World Language Department at MCHS and created the World Language Olympics at the school. Many of his former students have continued their education, with some even becoming German teachers.

In his acceptance speech, Ruth told the audience, “To teach is to touch a life forever” and then emphasized how “they (students) teach us.”

Peggy Thomas, retiring after her 39th year with MCAS, worked in six different capacities from special education teacher at the former Niemann Elementary to principal of Edgewood Elementary for the past six years.

“She’s been the agent of positive change there – securing major grants for school improvement, engaging community support, lifting staff morale, establishing a partner school relationship with Purdue University Northwest, involving parents and specifically fathers as role models,” Eason-Watkins said. “In short, she has turned it around. Peggy has a passion for students that is evident in everything she does. She is involved in several community organizations that give back, and thinks of herself as a ‘servant leader.’ ”

Thomas’ yearbook superlative? “Best Dressed, Best Dancer and Most Likely to Rule the World.”

Easton-Watkins introduced Eghbali by saying he’s fulfilling his yearbook superlative of “most likely to be a social activist.”

“Bob, I am happy to report that you’ve accomplished your mission – you are changing the world. Students and staff at Marsh Elementary are achieving great things – and this is in no small part because of their amazing counselor, ‘Mr. Bob,’ ” Eason-Watkins said.

He has organized discussions about bullying and friendship, and runs a successful peer mediation program called “PAWS Patrol.” Discipline referrals have decreased by 57 percent and suspensions by 32 percent since Eghbali joined Marsh. With his belief that college and career readiness begin long before high school, he plans programs, speakers and student trips to PNW and the University of Notre Dame.

“Bob says he chose the field of education because he ‘wanted to make a difference.’ Bob, you have done that for countless students,” Eason-Watkins said.

Maesch was recently honored by the Indiana Department of Education as one of three state finalists for the prestigious Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching. Eason-Watkins pointed out his ability to overcome any “achievement gap” in his classroom – while the state and district average on math ISTEP hovers around 60 percent, Maesch’s students score 87 percent.

“He sets high expectations and his students understand failure is not an option,” Eason-Watkins said. “You can see the joy he brings to math instruction as he infuses humor into every lesson.”

Maesch’s yearbook superlative: “Most likely to throw dry-erase markers.”

“Tess” Pavloff is a teacher who “doesn’t ‘talk down’ to her students,” Eason-Watkins said, even though they're kindergarteners.

“Instead she uses a robust vocabulary to teach them to express themselves,” she said. “Tess wants her students to grow up to be problem solvers. She can’t teach them everything there is to learn, but she can give them strategies for learning that can last a lifetime. Her principal, Peggy Thomas, shared that Tess is a strong leader and has the ability to mobilize staff, students and the community to achieve common goals.”

Among her other achievements, Pavloff painted a kindness poster on the cafeteria wall and organized a book club for teachers before the school year, has mentored numerous student teachers, and has led parent workshops and activities for students after school.

Pavloff’s yearbook superlative was, “most likely to give you the long version, every time.”

Lee brought experience developing Peace Corps youth programs in Panama, teaching science classes at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and leading outdoor environmental education activities at the Dunes Learning Center to her teaching post at Krueger five years ago.

Fulfilling her “true calling of teaching science,” Eason-Watkins said, “she is able to combine her passion for the environment, science, helping others, coaching volleyball, learning about and spreading the acceptance of diversity, and inspiring others to be good humans.”

Eason-Watkins said Lee lives out her suggested yearbook superlative of “most likely to fight for the underdog” through her creation of the Spectrum Club “that provides a safe place for students to express their opinions and beliefs, learn about local and global issues, and inspire one another to spread acceptance and kindness.”

Eason-Watkins also agreed with Tuesburg’s yearbook superlative of “Miss Congeniality” because “her students, family and co-workers simply adore her.”

A 19-year MCAS veteran, she has taught third, fourth and fifth grades.

Eason-Watkins cited Tuesburg’s reputation for rejoicing over a learning victory with a handstand; and joining in on “Crazy Hair Day” with her own wacky doo as examples of how her “classroom is alive and vibrant with energy” and “how she knows that relationships matter to kids. She goes out of her way to make every child feel valued.”

One-of-a-kind programs

Barker Middle School’s STEM Community Challenges Program and Michigan City High School’s Early College Program were recognized with Shining Light Awards at Tuesday's Educators of the Year program.

Community Challenges, in its fifth year, features engineering competitions for fifth- and sixth-graders; and also pits business and community groups against seventh- and eighth-graders to foster soft skills such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and math).

“These challenges are unique. No other school in Indiana does this and this was one reason why Barker received STEM certification from the state last year and was honored with a special ‘promising practice’ recognition,” Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins said.

Accepting the award was curriculum coach Amy Hamann, creator and organizer of the concept.

MCHS associate principal Jeremy Lugbill and counselor Rhonda Lamarr accepted the award for the Early College Program. Established five years ago, it serves 300 students in grades 9-12 considered in the academic middle.

"Early College has transformed Michigan City High School,” Eason-Watkins said, adding it's the only accredited program in Northwest Indiana. Last year, 51 students graduated with 479 dual credits.

Eason-Watkin said many came from underserved backgrounds, and “Early College meets them at the intersection of what has been and what could be. It empowers them to reach their potential by challenging them with rigorous coursework while providing added supports to ensure they succeed.”

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