NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WJMN) – Kyle Saari, a fifth-grade teacher at Negaunee Middle School, was recently featured on a statewide series about innovation in Michigan classrooms, the BRIGHT series, for making school a place where students want to be. 

“Educators have worked tirelessly to lift students and families across Michigan through the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Michigan Virtual. “Kyle makes learning fun for his students, he pushes his students to new limits while giving them the power of choice. The work that Kyle provides will move us forward to a stronger educational system for student success.”

Born and raised in Negaunee, Saari now teaches in the very classroom he once took classes in himself. He majored in elementary education at Northern Michigan University and has been teaching for eleven years. He is also the varsity tennis coach for Negaunee Public Schools.

While he prioritizes academics in his classroom, Saari also makes an effort in creating a positive and supportive environment for his students.

“Nothing is possible there if you’re not able to tell if a student’s having a bad day or if they come in excited or if they have something on their mind,” said Saari. “A lot of that first month of the school year, it isn’t academic, it’s about building those relationships and finding what makes them tick, what motivates them. Once you end up doing that, I think they kind of look at the classroom as their home away from home, and they’re truly comfortable. And when you’re able to establish that rapport with them, then when you have something more difficult you want them to accomplish, they’ll be able to jump over that hurdle and meet that bar.”

Saari has implemented what he calls Genius Hour, where he allows students to work on a project they’re passionate about throughout the school year.

“We had several people in terms of pandemic related and COVIDrelated, where they made masks. Somebody else ended up doing a can drive and buying pizza for frontline workers over the course of the year. And these are fifth graders […] And that’s the thing, people so often think, you’re ten or eleven you can’t do that. But at the same time, if we never gave them that time I think it would be a major part of their school year that they’d miss out on and they’d lose out on an opportunity to find out some things about themselves that even surprise them too.”

Although he is the educator, Saari says his students teach him something everyday.

“One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned in these first eleven years is these kids in fifth grade as ten and eleven-year-olds, they’re capable of so much when we get out of their way, sometimes. When we allow them to dream and they end up discovering a passion that they didn’t know they even had, and they end up pursuing something, they absolutely can wow you in every way.”

Saari was recommended by one of his student’s parents to be a part of Michigan Virtual’s BRIGHT podcast, which features inspirational Michigan educators known for their innovative approach to learning, how these changes impact students, and what advice they have for fellow teachers looking to try someone new.

“The parent who recommended [Saari] really talked about how he connected with the online environment with his students during the pandemic and how important that was,” said Anne Craft, Senior Director of Outreach, Michigan Virtual. “He really made things interested and fun for the kids. He made them feel loved and important and that he truly cared about them and their well-being.”

Read and listen to Kyle’s BRIGHT series feature, and see the full series of interviews.

For more information about Michigan Virtual, visit