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Grand River Prep Teacher Recognized as 2021 Betty Van Andel Teachers of Excellence

Teacher Appreciation Week is a time dedicated to celebrating and honoring teachers worldwide that are changing the lives of millions of children every day. This year has been no small feat for educators given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all, they remained creative, inspirational, and displayed abundant amounts of resiliency.

In light of Teacher Appreciation Week, two National Heritage Academies (NHA) teachers were recognized as 2021 Betty Van Andel Teachers of Excellence! Jordan Dischinger-Smedes, high school science teacher at Grand River Preparatory High School, and Munira Spiller, first-grade teacher at Detroit Enterprise Academy, were two of 10 teachers from five states that were recognized.

At Van Andel Institute for Education, their mission is to build classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. Each year, they honor outstanding teachers who have connected with them through their work and who exemplify this mission in their classrooms. These teachers were selected for their hard work and dedication to their students.

“Jordan is an absolutely phenomenal, student-empowering educator,” said Mike Irwin, principal at Grand River Prep. “Jordan is so passionate about his content areas, but his true passion is empowering students to not only explore that content but also to become involved in that content. Jordan’s students are advocates, they make policy, they are making the connections between the content they are studying and the real world. This is all due to Jordan’s passion for making students active members of their own world and their own education.”​

Jordan Dischinger-Smedes

In Irwin’s eyes, Jordan embodies everything you hope to see in an educator: caring, a never-ending desire to challenge students, and a never-ending work ethic to ensure his students can rise to those challenges. “The underlying philosophy to Jordan's teaching is quite simply that we all have an obligation to not only challenge our students but to ensure that they have all the support needed to meet those challenges,” said Irwin. “He knows the value on intrinsic motivation and strives to include real-world curriculum and issues into his class every day. This is illustrated by all of his work with the Van Andel Institute.”

Emily Gagnon, principal at DEA, shared that Ms. Spiller is an outstanding and creative educator because she goes above and beyond curriculum. She has high expectations for her students and will go the extra mile to ensure they have the material they need to be successful. “Munira has been a driving force behind our DEI committee this school year as our DEI committee co-chair,” said Gagnon. “Munira has fun chats with her students and her paraprofessional, Ms. McGrier. She creates strong, positive relationships with her students, and inspires them to be better every day. Munira infuses Black culture and history into her lessons, and it is so important for our students to see and believe that they can do anything. She makes sure this is done daily, and the students love her!”

The Van Andel Institute said the honor took on added significance because teachers have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to ensure learning didn’t miss a beat. “My hat is off to these teachers,” said Van Andel Institute Chief Education Officer Terra Tarango. “I want to thank them for all of the wonderful things they’ve done to create not just lesson plans, but learning experiences, where children can really thrive.”​

See the award video here.