BRIDGEWATER, NJ - An educator in the Bridgewater-Raritan regional school district was recently honored as a national award winner.

Michael Russell, an eighth-grade science teacher at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, was honored by the board of education May 12 for being one of just three educators nationwide to win the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award contest, which is sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The winners were originally announced in April.

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Since 1999, the VFW has annually selected one national winner apiece from the elementary (grades kindergarten through five), middle (six through eight) and high school (nine through 12) levels. Each winner receives a $1,000 award for professional development, along with $1,000 for their respective school.

Winners also receive a pair of commemorative plaques, one for their school, and one to keep.

Along with Russell, the middle school honoree, the elementary school winner was Megan Joy Rodgers out of Brookfield, Ohio, while the high school level recipient was Matthew Bundy from Mountain Home, Idaho.

Russell, a former sergeant with the Army National Guard and volunteer firefighter, was selected for his work “creating initiatives designed to educate his students and the school on the importance and sacrifices of America’s veterans,” according to vfw.org. His candidacy was sponsored by VFW Post 370 in Highland Park.

“He continues to be an invaluable member of our faculty,” said Superintendent Russell Lazovick, who also praised the teacher for his community work with veterans.

Russell, who started a Veteran History Club to support American veterans almost 20 years ago, appeared humbled by the honor.

“Thank you for the recognition,” he said during the online school board meeting. “I introduced our students to citizens who made several sacrifices throughout their lives, to make our nation what it is.”

He spoke of how the club has a tremendous group of supporters, and has also raised thousands of dollars for both veterans and active duty service personnel.

According to the VFW, Russell’s initiatives through the Veterans History Club have included holding discussions with veterans, making visits to veterans’ memorials and supporting the Library of Congress and its Veterans History Project. He has also organized school-wide fundraisers for the purpose of obtaining donations and supplies that are subsequently presented to service members, veterans and their families.

“I never once thought of any recognition,” said Russell. “I do this for the veterans, and we have to support them.”

Lazovick thanked Russell for his efforts, and also jokingly told him he appreciated the teacher’s last name, plus “the work you do all the time.”