Excellence in Education: Julie Raynor of Reeths-Puffer

LANSING, Mich. (Michigan Lottery) - A Muskegon County educator known for creating innovative programs, such as a school “Communications Café,” to help students with communication impairments has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.

The award winner, Julie Raynor, is a speech language pathologist with the Reeths-Puffer School District, where she works with students in the seventh to 12th grades.

In addition to her work with the Muskegon district, Raynor also is known for co-founding Camp Shout Out, which is a summer camp for young people who stutter, combined with hands-on training for speech language pathologists and graduate students. Camp Shout Out attracts campers from around the world and has won numerous awards. Raynor serves as co-director of the annual camp, which serves youth ages 8 to 18. Kristin Chmela co-founded the camp with Raynor and serves as the co-director of the camp and its director of training and treatment.

The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education awards in 2014 to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.  Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize, and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

Raynor said her favorite part of being an educator is “being able to develop and implement programs that excite students with communication impairments, as well as their peers. I love creating spaces that encourage connections between all students. I love how communication can be embedded into every single aspect of the day.

“Some of my students have difficulty expressing their ideas or understanding the content presented in class, others may struggle with stuttering or use an augmentative and alternative communication device to help them communicate their ideas. Many of the kids I work with have difficulty relating to their peers. Perhaps they misinterpret the social cues or are not able to speak effectively enough to join in a conversation. Often they remain on the ‘outskirts’ of their peer group,” she said. “I have witnessed firsthand how positive experiences within the community can literally change lives.

“Whatever limitations that students may bring to the table, the most important thing an educator can do is help those students find their strengths by believing in them and showing them how to believe in themselves.

“I believe education changes the world,” Raynor said, explaining: “Superior education is the key to building strong communication skills. Strong communication skills are the key to building positive relationships. Positive relationships are the key to building strong communities. Strong communities are the key to building a better world.”

Raynor said her students motivate her to do her best every day. “Young people with communication impairments inspire and motivate me to continuously strive to create an environment where each student is viewed as an equal communication partner, to never give up and to do anything I can to help others really listen.”

She added that she’s also inspired by her colleagues and school management. “I’m surrounded by leaders who serve and lead by example and colleagues who are passionate about their work. They inspire and motivate me to try new things, to take chances, to view failures and problems as opportunities, to evolve continuously and grow. They go above and beyond to not only support our students but also to support each other.”

Raynor’s nomination for the Excellence in Education award described her as an educator “who knows no limits when it comes to helping young people become better communicators. She works tirelessly to help children not only in her school district, but also throughout her community, region and state.

“For example, in order to increase 'buy-in' from high school students receiving speech therapy services, she created the 'Communication Café.’ This café is set up like a coffee shop with comfortable seating and a hot chocolate machine. Having this space has led to increased attendance while providing a relaxed, natural environment for communication interactions. Students who don’t receive speech therapy hang out in the Communication Café and are used as typical peer models,” the nomination said.

“She has applied for and received numerous grants to support her efforts to develop and implement creative programs. One grant funded a project she called ‘Rocket Launchers.’ This program was designed to provide disability awareness training to third grade students while also developing peer interaction skills. The program culminated with an assembly at which the participants were able to launch rockets they had built.”

The nomination noted that earlier this year, Raynor was one of 50 nonprofit leaders to take part in the American Express Annual Leadership Academy. The academy serves as a leadership development program for nonprofit groups and organizations around the world.

Raynor earned a bachelor of arts degree in speech language pathology from Michigan State University and a master of arts degree in speech language pathology from Central Michigan University. She has been an educator for 30 years, the last nine with the Reeths-Puffer schools.

To nominate someone for an Excellence in Education award, click here.

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