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Surprise $25,000 Milken Educator Award Leaves New Haven STEM Teacher Speechless

Alyssa Basso partners with the community to provide unique learning experiences for John S. Martinez Sea and Sky STEM Magnet School students

October 18, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif. At John S. Martinez Sea and Sky STEM Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut, K-8 STEM teacher Alyssa Basso works diligently to ensure students are learning just as much about STEM outside of the classroom as they are inside of it. By forging community partnerships, she provides unique learning experiences for students consistently exposing them to realistic, problem-solving opportunities in their own community. Today the New Haven community paid it forward in a big way, rallying around Basso to celebrate the surprise of a lifetime: a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. 

The prestigious Award, often hailed as the "Oscar of Teaching," was presented to Basso by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker during a surprise all-school assembly. Booming cheers from students, colleagues, dignitaries and media filled the room as Basso stood in awe before her oversized $25,000 check representing the Award’s cash prize she can use however she chooses. 

"Alyssa Basso is developing some of the next generation's STEM leaders," said Dr. Foley, who is also a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. "Her exciting classroom practices, unwavering dedication to students and colleagues, and demonstrated leadership make her an excellent addition to the Milken Educator Network. Congratulations!" 

Basso's membership to the National Milken Educator Network a growing group of more than 2,900 professionals working to shape the future of educationwill provide a platform to broaden her contributions to the community and profession as a whole for the years to come.

"The Milken Educator Award recognizes and celebrates outstanding educators, highlighting their remarkable contributions to education and inspiring others to strive for excellence in teaching," Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker said. "Alyssa Basso's exceptional dedication, innovative leadership, and her commitment to fostering a culture of critical thinking are inspiring and truly worthy of this award. Congratulations, Alyssa." 

Basso is among up to 75 recipients across the country this school year who will be awarded as part of the Milken Family Foundation's Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. This season will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career.

Outstanding educators like Basso are not aware of their candidacy for the Award. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award. 

More about Alyssa Basso 

Unique Learning Experiences: Basso promotes engagement by immersing students in STEM through community partnerships. She helped secure a partnership with New England Science and Sailing and obtained a grant allowing fifth graders to test water in different areas, established outdoor classrooms in collaboration with Common Ground High School and Head Start, acquired an aquaponics system and fish through a partnership with Trifecta Ecosystems, and collaborated with the Regional Water Authority to create a pollinator garden. Basso then organizes a "Martinez Market," where students can sample what they have grown. Students' critical thinking skills are put to the test in Basso's monthly STEM challenge, an initiative connecting real-world projects to curriculum. Thanks in large part to Basso’s efforts, her school's index category has increased from 5 to 2 on the Next Generation Accountability Report, leading to an exit from Focus School Status. 

Developing Young Leaders: Basso's integration of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Comprehensive English Language Proficiency (CELP) standards into her teaching opens doors for hands-on learning experiences. By incorporating yoga and outdoor initiatives into the curriculum, Basso promotes well-being among students and staff. A lifelong advocate for students, she helps develop young leaders by advising and co-facilitating student council. Her guidance helps students navigate elections, school planning and community event organization each year. Basso also manages schoolwide technology and leads the seventh grade audiovisual (AV) video production class.

Leading By Example: Basso's input is valued far beyond the classroom. She sits on the school planning management team and leadership team, works on district science curriculum, mentors teachers, leads professional development presentations, attends PTO meetings, participates in budget discussions and grant management, and oversees school social media accounts. She leads by example through her community fundraising initiatives, field trip and movie night coordination, monthly recycling committee organization, and more.

Education: Basso is a graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, earning a bachelor's in psychology and elementary education in 2008, and a master's in remedial reading in 2012.

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: "The Future Belongs to the Educated"

  • The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June 2024, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.
  • Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

Follow the Milken Educator Awards tour and use the #MEA3K and #MilkenAward hashtags on: Facebook (MilkenEducatorAwards) | X (Milken) | YouTube (MilkenAward) | Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn) | LinkedIn (MilkenFamilyFdn) | TikTok (MilkenAward)

Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information. View the MEA MEDIA KIT online.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, the Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at