“I didn’t really take it seriously at first,” Etheridge, a Hartland resident and father of three Hartland students, told The Daily. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Etheridge recently entered his third year teaching art classes at Hartland, but he’s been an educator for two decades. He was nominated by recent graduate Breanna Zaborowski, who now attends the University of Michigan.
Zaborowski nominated Etheridge, she said, because of the impact he had on her artistic interests, including encouraging her to get a commissioned piece for the Hartland Art Walk. That artwork is a set of “Eagle Wings,” now located at the Auxiliary Stadium at Hartland Middle School.
The weekly Excellence in Education Awards were established in 2014. They’re given throughout the school year to one teacher per week, and include a $2,000 cash prize. For context, there were well over 70,000 public school teachers in Michigan in 2022.
At the conclusion of the school year, one of the weekly winners will be named the Michigan Lottery’s Educator of the Year, which comes with a $10,000 prize.
Etheridge teaches around 200 students in a variety of art classes, including photography, drawing, painting, jewelry and metalsmithing and more. He spent several years teaching at Utica Community Schools, an experience he enjoyed besides the long commute from Hartland.
“Art classes give students the opportunity to think outside of the box in a creative way,” he said. “They’re incredibly important. Creative thinking in general is important no matter what (career students pursue).”
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Etheridge admits that, growing up, he was a “non-traditional” student who at times struggled to fit in. He decided to become a teacher to help other students who has similar struggles.
“Personal connections make all the difference in the world when it comes to a students’ development,” he wrote in a statement when the award was announced.
Etheridge is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after starting his job in Hartland. He’s doing well, but will monitor his condition for the rest of his life.
“He changed the way I look at my future,” Zaborowski wrote in the nomination form. “And has given me hope that I can make it as a creative thinker.”
— M. Alan Scott is a freelance writer for The Livingston Daily. Contact the newsroom at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Hartland art teacher became an educator to help others like him
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