It wasa red-letter day for teachers in Manitoba Thursday, as the province handed out awards to top educators and gave retired teachers more pension security.

The province handed out the first-ever "Celebration of Excellence in Teaching" awards to teachers selected from 66 nominees.

Rachelle Law of École Heritage Immersion School in St. Pierre-Jolys received the minister's award of excellence in teaching for early years. She was described as having a gift for helping students to be active, motivated and engaged.

"School is so important, and I believe that if I can make my classroom a fun place to be, they're going to love learning and they're going to do something with their lives when they get out of school," said Law, who has been teaching for five years.

"It's just really important to me. I want to make kids happy and I want them to have fun learning everything they need to learn."

Michelle Lee of Angus McKay School in Winnipeg won for excellence in teaching middle years after 30 years of teaching.

Science teacher Michael Patenaude won in the senior years category for his work at Winnipeg's Grant Park High School.

The outstanding new teacher was Christopher Yaremkiewich of Strathcona Community School in Winnipeg.

A team collaboration award went to Claudette Gagné, Colette Espenell and Diane Dupuis from École Pointe des Chênes in St. Anne for developing a "unique model" for teaching students to read.

Each recipient received an award certificate at a luncheon held at the legislative building Thursday.Two cash awards were also presented for school projects or to purchase equipment.

$1.5B to go to pension fund

Meanwhile, Manitoba Education Minister Peter Bjornson announced the government will invest $1.5 billion to fund 75 per cent of the province’s unfunded liability for the Teachers’ Retirement Allowances Fund (TRAF).

A government spokesperson explained the province is borrowing the money and transferring it to coverthe pension debt.

"Projection of the province’s pension costs for the next 50 years confirmed that due to the low cost of long-term debt financing, accelerated funding is financially beneficial to the province," provincial officials said in a release.

The employer portion of TRAF has been unfunded since the early 1960s. Retired teachers have been calling on the province to address the issue for years.

The move also helps the government comply with new rules for its accounting procedures, as recommended by the provincial auditor.

Finance Minister Greg Selinger added that the province continues to work on a similar solution for the unfunded pension liability of the Civil Service Superannuation Fund.