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Milken Educator Awards Come to Wyoming, Surprising One Deserving Educator with $25,000

Buffalo kindergarten teacher makes history as district's first Milken Educator

November 29, 2022

Buffalo, Wyo. — Kindergarten is a big transition, but for Jessica Kavitz's students at Meadowlark Elementary School, she eases them into the school year with movement-as-learning, colorful and creative exercises to engage their young minds, and social-emotional learning tools to build confidence. Kavitz (KAY-vitz) is a local leader, following in the footsteps of her mother who was an educator in Gillette for nearly three decades. At a schoolwide assembly today, Kavitz was honored for her work in and out of the classroom, becoming the district’s first recipient of the Milken Educator Award, often hailed as the "Oscar of Teaching." 

Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher was joined by Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder to present Kavitz with the prestigious recognition, including an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize to be used however she likes. 

Kavitz is among up to 40 elementary educators across the nation who will receive the Milken Educator Award during the 2022-2023 school year, and the first recipient from Johnson County School District #1 in the history of the Award. On top of today's celebration, Kavitz will have the opportunity to join the national Milken Educator Network of more than 2,900 exceptional K-12 educators and leaders across the country. Honorees receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in April 2023. 

"Jessica Kavitz is the kind of teacher you hope your children have for their first year of school – compassionate, thoughtful and engaging. Jessica's classroom is a nonstop learning hub that prepares students well for their academic journeys," said Gallagher. "Outstanding educators have the potential to positively influence generations of students, and it is especially meaningful when parents inspire their children to pursue the adventure of teaching. We are thrilled to honor Jessica as a second-generation educator making an impact on the lives of so many young students in the Buffalo community." 

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year's winners' list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced. 

"Jessica is a shining star among Wyoming's excellent teachers. She is creative, dedicated and genuinely believes in her students. Congratulations to Jessica – Wyoming is very proud of you!" said Chad Auer, Wyoming's deputy superintendent of public instruction. 

Since the initiative's inception, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 

Wyoming Superintendent-Elect of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder also shared her congratulations for Kavitz today, saying, "Jessica Kavitz is a perfect example of the outstanding educators we have throughout Wyoming. Her attention to her students' growth and unique learning styles is exceptional. Congratulations, Jessica." 

More About Jessica Kavitz 

Movement "Wakes Up" Young Brains: Kavitz's students rarely sit still — and that's by design. Kavitz knows that movement engages students' brains and helps them process and retain information. She borrows basketballs and other sports equipment from the school gym to coordinate with books the class is reading and encourages students to hop, leap, crawl and do push-ups as they move through learning stations. Interspersing physical activities like cup-stacking and agility ladders with reading, writing and math tasks helps Kavitz "wake up" her young learners' brains as they absorb and master new skills. Kavitz takes a project-based approach that includes trips to the park and other local attractions, often on foot. On the day students learn about red during a unit on colors, everyone wears red clothing, they cut apple shapes out of red construction paper with scissors, and parents bring in red snacks for the class to enjoy. Kavitz follows the standards and knows which skills students need to advance to the next stage of learning. Her methods deliver. Last year, her students' reading proficiency grew from 62 % to 92%, and from 94% to 100% in math. 

Community Leader and Mentor: Kavitz runs Meadowlark's weekly professional learning community for kindergarten and sits on the school's Guiding Coalition, which tackles issues like data, curriculum, student and staff safety, and parental involvement. She helped evaluate a new science curriculum, mentors student teachers, and takes teachers who move to kindergarten from other grade levels under her wing as they adjust to their new classroom. Kavitz had already begun integrating technology into her classroom before buildings closed for COVID in 2020, so her students easily transitioned to using Chromebooks at home for independent activities and weekly classroom meetings online. When Meadowlark reopened, Kavitz was among the first to welcome parent volunteers, moving learning stations outside so they could safely join the class. 

Builds Confidence, Social Skills Through Learning: Social-emotional learning plays a large role in kindergarten, and Kavitz turns many activities into exercises in self-reflection. She offers writing prompts like "What can you do independently?" and "What makes you awesome?" teaching vocabulary and language skills while reinforcing feelings of pride and self-worth. A well-known leader and hometown hero in Buffalo, Kavitz developed her love for teaching at home — her mother was an educator for three decades in Gillette.

Education: Kavitz earned a bachelor's in elementary education and reading education in 2009 from Eastern Washington University and received National Board Certification in 2020.

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

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 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.The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in April 2023, 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 (MFF) mentoring program, in which new 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. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of 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 receive 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