Tabernacle teacher “LifeChanger of the Year” nominee

Third grade teacher Michael Dunlea could win up to $5,000 for the district

Michael Dunlea’s third grade class makes a link from Tabernacle to Tennessee, where they virtually meet with a Memphis class (Michael Dunlea/Special to The Sun).

Tabernacle Elementary School third grade teacher Michael Dunlea has been nominated for the 2020-2021 national LifeChanger of the Year award. 

Dunlea was nominated by his friend, Melissa Collins. For the past three years, the two have partnered their classrooms through an online platform called Empatico. The partnership allows Dunlea’s classroom in New Jersey, which is all-white, to connect with Collins’ classroom in Memphis, which is all-Black.

“As teachers, we need to work harder to ensure that our students make connections with people of other races, said Collins. “Teaching our children about our differences and our shared humanity will help empower the next generation of dreamers and doers, and they will be the cure to end racism. Michael and I tried to bridge those gaps in our classrooms by connecting our students and communities, leveraging technology to connect them to the world at large.”

During these classroom exchanges, student buddies read to each other, discuss books, exchange gifts, and send teddy grams along with a friendly letter to each other. Two years ago, a few of Collins’ students traveled across the country to surprise their buddies in person. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dunlea invested in a Zoom account and the two classrooms stayed in touch through letters, gifts, and even a virtual cooking class.

The two educators also collaborated to implement the KIND Council in order to promote kindness in their schools, communities, and the world. The classes create a kindness pledge, signed by all the students, read books about kindness, and created signs that promoted peace. Dunlea and Collins led their classes on coordinated peace marches in their respective schools, encouraging broader involvement throughout their school communities.

“Michael was a LifeChanger, as he helped our classes to stay connected during the pandemic and created remote learning activities to lessen the isolation of school closures while pursuing goals of social justice,” said Collins. “He gives me hope of a better tomorrow when things do not seem so bright.”

About LifeChanger of the Year

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 educators and school district employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Each school year, LifeChanger of the Year receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Eighteen individual LifeChanger of the Year awards will be given during the 2020-2021 school year.

  • (1) Grand Prize Winner – will receive $10,000 to be shared with their school/district.
  • (4) Grand Prize Finalists – will receive $5,000 to be shared with their school/district.
  • (10) LifeChanger Award Winners – will receive $3,000 to be shared with their school/district.
  • (1) Spirit Award Winner – This award is given to the nominee whose community demonstrates the most support for their nomination. The winner will receive $5,000 to be shared with their school/district.
  • (1) Capstone Award Winner – This award is given to a nominee retiring at the end of the 2019-20 school year. The winner will receive $3,000 to be shared with their school or district.
  • (1) Spotlight Award Winner – This award is given to a nominee in a specific discipline each year. For 2020-21, the Spotlight Award will be given to a nominee who has gone above and beyond to educate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The winner will receive $5,000 to be shared with their school or district.

Winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals. Nominees must be K-12 teachers or school district employees. To be considered for an award, nominees must

  • Make a positive impact in the lives of students
  • Enhance their school or district’s atmosphere, culture and pride
  • Demonstrate exemplary leadership at the school and/or district level
  • Possess a proven record of professional excellence
  • Show commitment to building a nurturing environment that supports learning
  • Adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards

A resource page with ideas for how to celebrate nominees can be found at http://lifechangeroftheyear.com/showspirit/.

To view Dunlea’s LifeChanger of the Year nominee profiles, or to nominate someone from your school community, visit www.LifeChangeroftheYear.com.