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D.C. Educator Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Helping her Students Master Literacy

Reading recovery specialist Jenelle Bryant honored as one of nation's top teachers 

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world' 

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona says Milken Educators "personify excellence in education"

May 12, 2022

Washington, D.C. — In a surprise assembly today, Jenelle Bryant, a K-1 reading recovery specialist at Seaton Elementary School, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her work helping students struggling with reading to master age-appropriate literacy skills. Nearly 90 percent of students who complete Bryant's classwork no longer need her support by the end of the school year. 

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Washington, D.C., State Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant presented Bryant with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media. Bryant is the only educator in the District of Columbia to be recognized with the Award this 2021-22 season. She joins the ranks of more than 60 teachers nationwide to receive the distinction. 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. 

"Learning how to read proficiently is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can pass along to her students," said Dr. Foley, who herself is a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "Jenelle Bryant works with young learners to give them confidence at an early age, setting them up for success throughout their entire education. Her students and their families respect and trust her, and for this and so much more, we honor her with the Milken Educator Award today." 

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award. 

"Jenelle Bryant truly represents excellence in her craft as an educator. She uses innovative, differentiated techniques and leads her students to impressive progress in reading," said State Superintendent Dr. Grant. "As a trainer and mentor for other educators, Jenelle's expertise is vital to ensuring a strong recovery for our students after the pandemic. Thank you, Jenelle, and congratulations on receiving the Milken Educator Award for the District of Columbia." 

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year's winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona said Milken Educators "personify excellence in education" and "inspire leadership and motivate students to excel." 

More about Jenelle Bryant 

Reading Rates Exceed District and Nation: Thanks to Bryant, the youngest learners at Seaton Elementary School are thriving. As the school's reading recovery specialist, Bryant works intensively with a small group of students each semester who are reading below grade level. She knows the early intervention is an opportunity to close the gap and change children's trajectories. Bryant uses individual student data to design lessons that are hands-on, cross-curricular and kinesthetic. She oversees testing and assessment, and works with Seaton's K-2 teachers to improve literacy strategies and outcomes for all students. Bryant's "discontinuation rate," representing students whose reading skills improve enough that they no longer need her help, is an impressive 88%, significantly higher than both D.C. Public Schools and the nation. 

Enthusiastic Educator Who Meets Student Needs: Energetic and dynamic, Bryant centers her practice around making sure all learners' needs are met. She chairs Seaton's equity committee, leading professional development around anti-bias practices and pushing her peers to examine their biases and question their thinking. Bryant mentors student teachers from local universities, trains pre-service preschool teachers, and leads a professional learning community as Seaton's LEAP (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) coach. When she was a classroom teacher, Bryant often welcomed visitors into her first grade room to observe. 

Collaborative Communicator with Students, Families: Bryant is dedicated to building trusting, meaningful relationships with families to make school a joyful place for learners. She communicates with parents and caregivers regularly and invites them into the school to participate in ways that highlight each family's special skill set. As a facilitator for the Flamboyan Foundation's Family Engagement Collaborative, Bryant leads districtwide professional development on best practices for family engagement and works with a group of 30 educators in a yearlong professional learning community. She uses charts to track data and touchpoints, making sure positive interactions predominate teachers' communications with families. As a classroom teacher, Bryant visited every family at home at the beginning of the year to help build the trusting relationships needed to support students academically. Seaton credits Bryant's efforts to spread effective family engagement practices with the school’s recent academic gains. 

Education: Bryant earned a bachelor's in human development in 2011 and a master's in early childhood education in 2012 from Howard University. 

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

More about the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • In June, the honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children. 

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward).

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 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. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell