Catalyst Education Awards recognize Vicksburg principal who created the 'Tobey Way'

Under Barwegen's guidance, the staff created a model the school lives by everyday called the Tobey Way. (WWMT/Christine Van Timmeren )

Rather than words on a wall, the Tobey Way is a philosophy, and one everyone buys into at Tobey Elementary School in Vicksburg.

Created by the staff under the guidance of principal Mike Barwegen, the Tobey Way is a model for how everyone at the school lives each day.

The leadership Barwegen provided on that project is one of the reasons he was recognized as a winner of this year’s Catalyst Education Awards, presented by Southwest Michigan First. The organization chose this year to honor a teacher, a principal and an education program at its annual event.

Being a school principal is about more than just management and authority; it's leading by example and creating a positive environment where students and staff can thrive. Those who know Mike Barwegen, said he is a principal who exemplifies those traits.

“He is hands down the best principal that I've ever met,” said Nikki Gerber, a volunteer at Tobey Elementary School. “The kids respect him; the teachers love him; the parents love him.”

Painted on the school buildings wall, the Toby Way includes five behaviors -- each starting with the letters that spell out Tobey. They are:

  • Treat others with respect!
  • Offer a helping hand!
  • Be responsible!
  • Expect excellence!
  • Yearn to learn!

School staff and volunteers said the Tobey Way presents itself in everything students do, from raising money, to building a handicapped accessible playground for another student, to petitioning the Michigan governor to create a Dwarfism Awareness Day.

“The reason for this award is not me; it's the people around me and the kids here at Tobey,” Barwegen said. “We make them leaders, and they become leaders in the Tobey Way.

For example, four girls exemplified the Tobey Way when they saw a student from another district in need and stepped up.

“I guess we just did our best to help her,” the students said. “Yeah, we remembered the Tobey Way and offered a helping hand.”

Barwegen said the girls made an impact.

“The parent from that school district called me and wanted to transfer her daughter to Tobey, because of what she heard the girls say that night to her,” Barwegen said.

While he won't admit it, Barwegen is the spark behind the Tobey Way.

Gerber said Barwegen is a deserving recipient of best principal in Southwest Michigan.

“Mr. B makes Tobey Elementary,” she said.

Read More from the Catalyst Education Awards

Dowagiac teacher's passion for science earns her a Catalyst Education Award

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