Bridgman special education teacher earns excellence award; other Berrien Co. teachers honored;

The 19th Annual Excellence in Education Awards wrapped up today with the announcement of this year’s winner online via Facebook. The Berrien RESA Special Education Parent Advisory Committee named Melissa Payne their 2023 award winner. Payne is a special education teacher at Bridgman Elementary School.

“Melissa spends countless hours making sure her students are receiving the best education and fair treatment they deserve,” said one of her nominators. “She is often seen giving hugs, high-fives, and providing encouraging words to students. Even students that are not in her classes know she is someone they can count on…she truly is one of the most dedicated, compassionate, and genuine people I have ever met.”

Also recognized for their contributions to the special education community were:

  • Jeri Essig, Middle/High School Math Teacher at River Valley School District
  • Emily Grontkowski, Resource Room Teacher at Howard-Ellis Elementary, Niles Community Schools
  • Vanessa Harazin, 5th Grade Teacher at F.C. Reed Middle School, Bridgman Public Schools
  • Twonia Horne, Teacher at Fair Plain East Elementary, Benton Harbor Area Schools
  • Shelley Schmaltz, Occupational Therapist, Berrien RESA
  • Patricia VanAntwerp Reading Interventionist at North Elementary, Watervliet Public Schools
  • Kelly Westgate, Special Education Teacher, Ballard Elementary School in Niles Community Schools

Individuals were nominated from across school districts in Berrien County for their contributions to the education and success of students with disabilities.

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The Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (PAC) is made up of two representatives from each school district in Berrien County. The committee works with Berrien RESA to discuss special education issues and creates an additional link between the Berrien RESA’s services and the local school districts.