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Bettering our world and ourselves: Bluffton social studies teacher earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Erin Reichert of Beaufort County School District immerses her students in local government and politics

January 18, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Erin Reichert, a social studies teacher at Bluffton High School, takes her students to food drives, local polling centers and the State House. Her classes offer students a practical look at what it means to be an informed and engaged citizen. And for their senior projects, students develop a plan to make a difference in their community and then present it before the principal, superintendent, Bluffton mayor and town council.

But today, all eyes were on Reichert. In front of a gymnasium packed with students, peers, visiting dignitaries and media, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, joined by South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and Beaufort County School District Superintendent Dr. Jeff Moss, surprised Reichert as a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

Reichert is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. She is the only South Carolinian to receive the award this 2017-18 season.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but also to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

"Civically engaged students are the foundation of what will become a civically engaged populace," said Foley, herself an Indiana Milken Educator from the 1994 class. "Erin Reichert helps build that foundation by encouraging her students to engage in issues facing their community and making a difference. The keen awareness about the world around them puts Erin’s students on solid footing for the future. I congratulate Erin and look forward to her contributions to the national Milken Educator Network."

"I am so proud of Erin Reichert for being honored with the Milken Educator Award," said Spearman. "Erin's dedication to her students is evident the moment you step into her classroom and her leadership and passion are shared with fellow teachers across Beaufort. I want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for the partnership we share in recognizing outstanding educators like Erin and look forward to future efforts to showcase and uplift the teaching profession."

"Erin Reichert's an outstanding professional and a superb representative for our district's teachers on the national stage," said Moss. "Her positive influence on students, particularly with her superlative Youth in Government program, extends far beyond the classroom."

About Milken Educator Erin Reichert
Erin Reichert, a social studies teacher at Beaufort County, South Carolina's, Bluffton High School, doesn't just aim to educate her students—she also actively cultivates the next generation of leaders and citizens. For their senior projects, graduating students put together a presentation on what they plan to do to make a difference in their community, which they deliver to an audience that includes the principal, superintendent, Bluffton mayor and town council. Reichert teaches both AP United States History (APUSH) and Youth In Government (YIG), through which students have organized pictures with Santa during the town's annual holiday parade, participated in cemetery and environmental cleanups, run clothing and food drives, and staffed local polling centers. Reichert's students leave high school with a sense of charity, heart and personal responsibility, knowing they can truly make their world better.

Reichert immerses her students in government and politics. YIG is normally an extracurricular club, but Reichert secured funding to hold it as a class to allow all interested students to participate; she now teaches three full sections. Students argue criminal cases, draft and debate legislation, learn parliamentary procedures and rules of order, run meetings, converse with politicians, make their case to state legislators, and shadow Bluffton town officials. Reichert's students participate in local, regional and national programs like the James Otis lecture series at the South Carolina State House, Furman's Emerging Public Leaders, the Youth Leadership Initiative e-Congress, and the Gulfstream Management Leadership speech contest in Savannah, Georgia. Reichert encourages students to carry their learning over into the real world, giving voter registration forms to those who are eligible so they can cast their ballots on Election Day. In the YIG statewide events, Bluffton has won multiple honors, including Outstanding Delegation, Outstanding Bill, Outstanding Statesman, and Outstanding Adviser. Several of Reichert's students have gone on to represent South Carolina at national YIG conferences.

In APUSH, Reichert brings in meaningful guests, from an impersonator of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a military veteran who spent two years in Normandy researching the Allies' D-Day invasion in World War II. Her class created a Facebook page for Thomas Jefferson and engages in projects like "Six-Word Memoirs" and "What Would You Do?" simulations. Both Reichert's APUSH and YIG students excel. Ninety-five percent have passed end-of-course testing in the past three years, with 15 percent earning perfect scores. Enrollment in APUSH has grown from 21 to 92 students since Reichert took over the program six years ago, and her students' scores exceed local, state, national and international averages, with 86 percent scoring a 3 or higher last year.

Outside the classroom, Reichert mentors new teachers, works with the district's peer observation teams, serves as the school's liaison to district administration, and has led professional development sessions for the school and district. She is an APUSH exam reader, has served as a local coordinator for exchange students, and has worked on several public service announcements for United Way.

Reichert earned a bachelor's degree in social science from Eastern Illinois University in 2000 and a master's in counseling and guidance from Lewis University in 2005.

More information about Reichert, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at    

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Reichert's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. 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.