Strengthening Democracy: Michelle Clifford

Michelle Clifford is our 2021 Outstanding Educator.

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Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans whose work embodies the spirit of modern, robust democracy. Among our 2021 honorees are educators, administrators, students, and everyday Nebraskans. We’ll officially honor the winners on April 29, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special. 

Civic Nebraska honors Michelle Clifford for using her civic voice to organize and advocate for student and teacher safety as school returned to in-person instruction amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An instructor at Lincoln High, Clifford consistently advocated for her beliefs to the school board and other institutions, even amid vocal opposition. In doing so, she inspired and empowered others to speak up and stand out to ensure a safer, more inclusive educational environment so students felt safe and included – and did not fall behind in their academic journeys.

“This pandemic year has proven to be an almost impossible year for schools – one that many educators describe as the hardest year they have ever experienced,” said Sarah Walker, who nominated Clifford for the honor. “Michelle never once stopped advocating for her students, and showed tremendous commitment to casting her voice, harnessing her individual power, and advocacy across systems to protect her students and others across the district during this whirlwind of a year.”

Clifford was motivated to speak out because teachers are the closest adults to students’ needs and capacities, Walker said – a demonstration of profound community-building to not only do what is right but finding vigilance under constant pressure to return to “business as usual.”

In addition, Clifford digitalized aspects of her art education for virtual learning and has shown dedication, love, and unending support for her students, many of whom fell into academic danger during the pandemic.

“Michelle is known at Lincoln High for keeping her classroom inclusive, the kind of educator that doesn’t shy away from serious topics of injustice, and has, time and again, fought for her students,” Walker said. “She represents the many public school teachers who are doing their very best and then some in a climate that can lack in support and certainty.

As we begin to heal and start the shared journey of recovery, we honor outstanding educators like Michelle Clifford, who have advocated, activated, organized, spoke up, and – as a result – have made life better for their students during a frightening and difficult time. Congratulations and well done, Michelle.

Meet Michelle Clifford and her fellow honorees on April 29 at Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards. RSVP now, and we’ll send you the Zoom access link April 28, the day before the big event!

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