The award winner, Molly DeBono, is a first-grade teacher at Erie Elementary School which is part of Chippewa Valley School District.
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 DeBono will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing, and then on Thursday in Saginaw and Detroit.
DeBono was inspired by her second-grade teacher to become an educator.
“Growing up, my family moved a lot. I attended about five different schools in five different states before 5th grade. It was not easy always being ‘the new student,’” said DeBono. “Every single teacher I had welcomed me with love and kindness.
“I remember my second-grade teacher specifically. We just moved to Connecticut and I was having an especially hard time adjusting. She gave me a job to take care of the class pet. I looked forward to this job each day. I felt a sense of belonging in the classroom because of this responsibility I was given. I moved at the end of that year and this teacher continued to write to me and stay in touch with me. I look back on each one of these teachers that all added something special to my life.
“It always amazed me that in such a short time, they were able to leave such a lasting imprint in my life. I knew that I wanted to pay it forward and be that person to my future students.”
She said her students are her favorite part of being an educator.
“They are my reason and my favorite part of being a teacher. They bring so much joy and light to my day. They come to school each day like sponges, ready to soak up all that I am ready to teach them. No matter what is going on in their lives or the world around them, they show up with an abundance of love to give. Their stories and laughter fill my heart.”
A parent nominated DeBono for the award. The nomination cited her ability to adapt and take on challenges.
“Mrs. DeBono did an amazing job of adapting and overcoming the challenges that were thrown at her this year. She did everything she could to stay connected with her students—she set up biweekly zoom calls with the whole class so the students who had become a school family were able to stay connected with each other in this challenging time.
“Mrs. DeBono made a Facebook group for her students and the families to stay connected. She went live every night at 7 p.m. to read the kids a “bedtime” story, many times with her own girls included. When school was in session she started reading to the kids about Freddie and she was able to pick up the books from her classroom and finish them with the kids before school ended. Mrs. DeBono is more than your average teacher just there to teach the kids how to read, write and do math. She teaches them how to care and love one another.”
DeBono earned a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University. She has been an educator for nine years, including four as a first-grade teacher.