Alumna becomes first autism specialist named Michigan Educator of the Year

October 21, 2020

Michigan State University alumna Megan Sidge treats her small group of students, each of them with varying forms of autism, like a family. And they stick together, sometimes for years as they move through grades at Hickory Woods Elementary in Novi, Mich.

“I just love being able to watch them grow from year to year. I love that part of my job,” said Sidge, a 2015 graduate of the MSU Teacher Preparation Program.

Special education teacher Megan Sidge and two of her students (photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic).

This summer, she was honored in a big way for doing her job, plus much more. Sidge was named 2020 Educator of the Year in the Michigan Lottery’s Excellence in Education Program.

She was selected from among 34 teachers across the state who were honored on a weekly basis throughout the year. In total, more than 650 teachers were nominated.

She is the first teacher who specializes in working with students with autism spectrum disorder to receive the top award—including a $10,000 prize—since the program began six years ago.

“Megan works tirelessly to prepare individualized programs for her students that align to their grade level curriculum, supports her colleagues with learning about autism spectrum disorders, takes part in educating all students about autism, and is an excellent teammate,” said Hickory Woods Elementary Principal Patricia Chinn. “Her constant positivity is infectious and her relationships are strong and supportive. She is so deserving of this award. Megan is a true gem in our school family!”

Sidge was attending what she thought was a mid-summer staff meeting via Zoom when Chinn, along with colleagues from Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and representatives from the Lottery, surprised her with the news.

“I had no idea,” Sidge said. “I’m still very grateful and so honored.”

Finding inspiration

Sidge first became inspired to teach in her mother’s classroom, a special education classroom in which she began to volunteer as a middle school student. “I saw how much of a difference she was making,” she said.

Selecting MSU was also inspired by family since her parents and sisters attended the university. She chose to attend the highly regarded College of Education, majoring in Special Education. She also completed the online Master of Arts in Special Education, focusing on autism, in 2016.

So far, Sidge has overcome each new challenge on the path, following her mother’s footsteps to not only leading her own classroom, but being recognized as a statewide leader for her impactful practice.

Teacher at table with students
Megan Sidge in the classroom with her students (photo take prior to COVID-19 pandemic).

She has started using the $10,000 prize to purchase books and other items to support her teaching. And she is navigating the newest challenges, meeting her students needs through remote teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with equal dedication and grace.

“I couldn’t have made it to this point without my Hickory Woods team and MSU, truly.”

Related story

Fellow Spartan graduate Dan Carr, a high school teacher, was named Michigan Educator of the Year through the same program in 2016.