Press Releases    All Press Releases


Agriculture Teacher Jacob Ball Sows Seeds of Success in Lexington, Kentucky, Earning $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Carter G. Woodson Academy teacher honored during coast-to-coast tour recognizing excellence and innovation in education

October 27, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif.   From small-town farming to the surprise of a lifetime! Hailing from humble 'roots' on his family's farm in Culvertown, Kentucky, Jacob Ball never imagined his passion for agriculture would lead to national recognition – let alone a prestigious $25,000 Milken Educator Award. The Carter G. Woodson Academy agriculture teacher was left stunned after the announcement of the Award during a schoolwide assembly before cheering students, colleagues, dignitaries and media.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley helmed today's presentation alongside Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney. Bestowed by the Milken Family Foundation, the Award’s $25,000 cash prize is unrestricted and honors exceptional educators across the country for their innovation and excellence.

"Jacob Ball gifts students with a rich, real-world agricultural education, deepening their appreciation of its impact on many facets of everyday life," said Dr. Foley, who is a 1994 Milken Educator herself from Indiana. "With a combination of hands-on activities, daily reflection and deep inquiry, and partnerships with organizations and businesses, Jacob's message to his students is clear: Pathways to successful careers in agriculture are possible, tangible and open to all. Congratulations, Jacob, and welcome to the national Milken Educator Network of excellence."

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Awards will honor up to 75 recipients across the country this school year 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.

"I am incredibly honored to be here at Carter G. Woodson to congratulate Jacob Ball on being named a Milken Educator. Gov. Beshear and I understand the valuable impact that educators have on the students that walk through their doors every day. We are proud to be an education first administration. We are committed to strengthening and lifting up the education profession and we are inspired by the work of dedicated teachers like Mr. Ball," said Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman. "Mr. Ball's contributions to the field of education and agriculture are truly commendable. Through his instruction and guidance, he has not only expanded the horizons of his scholars but also made a significant impact in promoting diversity and innovation in the agricultural industry. Thank you, Mr. Ball, for all of the things you do each day for all of the scholars here at Carter G. Woodson Academy. Congratulations on this award!"

"When you visit a classroom like Mr. Ball's, it shows just how much he goes above and beyond what is expected of him in a way that inspires his students to do the same," said Kinney. "Mr. Ball is more than just a teacher; he is a true advocate for his students and is a pillar of support within the school community."

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. 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.

Ball is the second and final recipient in Kentucky this 2023-24 season. He joins Shane Baker, a third grade teacher at Jennings Creek Elementary School in Bowling Green, who was surprised with the Award yesterday, Oct. 26.

More About Jacob Ball

Commitment to Inspiring Diversity in Agriculture: Jacob Ball's passion for agriculture began years before his teaching career, as a boy growing up on his family’s small farm in Culvertown, Kentucky, a little over an hour from Lexington. In high school, he enrolled in agriculture courses and participated in his local Future Farmers of America (FFA) club. Several influential teachers encouraged him to pursue his two loves: teaching and agriculture. Today, Ball teaches agriculture to 6th-12th graders at Carter G. Woodson Academy, and, with a population primarily made up of young students of color, Ball is committed to opening up the world of agricultural careers to the learners in his classroom and beyond. His students are benefiting from his high standards in the classroom – six of them have received full scholarships to HBCUs in recent years and 100 percent of his students passed their end-of-year exams last year, compared to just over half the year before. 

His curriculum includes a focus on minority contributions to the world of agriculture, and he and his students created an Agriculture Wall of Fame highlighting the contributions of Hispanic and African American farmers across the U.S. Ball brings a spirit of creativity and innovation to everything he does in the classroom, from challenging his students to create agritourism facilities using Minecraft to creating a hydroponic farm to grow lettuce and sell at local restaurants and grocery stores. 

Hands-on Experience Yields Big Results: Ball's student experiences do not end in the classroom. He worked with them to start a Junior MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences) chapter in partnership with the University of Kentucky, and established the school’s FFA group. Last year, his students participated in 140 various agriculture projects across the state, logging an impressive 3,000 hours of real-world experience and culminating in the trip of a lifetime for nine of those students who traveled to Ireland for the Agriculture in Ireland summer tour. 

Education: Ball is a National Board Certified Teacher. He earned a Bachelor of Science in agricultural education (2011) and an education specialist degree in administration (2018) from the University of Kentucky; and a Master of Arts in education from the University of the Cumberlands in 2015. 

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.

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