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Math Students' Success Adds Up to a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Carly Bowden

Kansas teacher brings mathematics to life and lifts test scores at Andover Central Middle School

January 09, 2020

SANTA MONICA, Calif., – Learning isn't a game in Carly Bowden's seventh-grade math class in Andover, Kansas. Except when it is. Keeping things light to counter math anxiety and build student confidence as they learn and achieve, Bowden transformed her classroom into an Escape Room game where kids solve equations to win. Bowden grounds her lessons in practical situations, teaching students about percentages via shopping simulations or taking the class on a field trip to a local grocery store to understand household food budgeting. Project oriented and data-driven, Bowden does whatever it takes to help her class succeed, whether that's dressing up in a Bob Ross getup to teach a lesson about painting or spending extra time with students who need more support. Whatever she's doing, it's working. The vast majority of Bowden's students become proficient in math with most showing over a year's growth in her classes. 

Yet it was Bowden who was earning high marks this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. Bowden was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Kansas this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20. 

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 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 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." 

Bowden brings that future closer for her classes by multiplying student engagement, stoking creative thinking and building a cooperative in-class environment. A strong advocate for project-based learning and a savvy technologist, Bowden also excels by mentoring fellow teachers and constantly striving to discover fresh pedagogical perspectives through her colleagues and professional associations. 

"A creative and charismatic teacher like Carly Bowden knows that math is not only a gateway to higher education, but also a practical advantage in everyday life," said Foley. "Bowden is that rare teacher who really understands how to balance all the factors when teaching middle school learners, and her commitment and dedication show the kind of inspirational leadership we seek in our Milken Educators." 

"Carly represents the exceptional educators here in Kansas," said Watson. "Her ability to engage her students in meaningful, personalized learning is what every educator should aspire to achieve. I want to congratulate her on being named a Milken Educator. I also want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for giving us the opportunity to recognize Kansas' outstanding teachers." 

"Carly is an exemplary educator who inspires her students to love math," said Superintendent Brett White. "She engages them in hands-on lessons that are relevant and meaningful to their lives. Students appreciate the creativity that Carly shows and the thorough manner in which she teaches concepts. Carly builds outstanding relationships with students, and truly makes a difference in their lives." 

About Milken Educator Carly Bowden

Carly Bowden brings her mathematics curriculum to life for students of all abilities. A seventh-grade math teacher at Andover Central Middle School, Bowden creates innovative, engaging projects that reflect the ways math is used in the real world. She takes students to a local grocery store to buy items based on a set budget, then sets up her room as a grocery store full of discount and sale offers to help students learn about percentages. Bowden turned her classroom into an "Escape Room" game space, the team problem-solving activity popular with teens, where pupils solved equations to move ahead in the game. She has also transformed her classroom into a mockup of the International Space Station and donned a Bob Ross costume to lead a painting session during the school's "Exploration Days." In Bowden's classroom, learning is both fun and successful. On STAR screeners, 87% of her students score proficient or above, with most making more than a year's growth while in her class. 

Known as a masterful relationship-builder, Bowden develops confidence in all students and leads them to reach their full potential, especially those who struggle with math. Students feel successful, valued and important to the classroom's success. Using flexible seating and manipulatives, Bowen adapts all lessons to meet the specific needs of each learner while creating a collaborative family-like atmosphere. Students who need additional support can count on her attention and know she will do whatever it takes to help them succeed. 

Bowden uses her social media accounts to tell the story of her classroom to parents and the local community and connect with teachers around the country, often inviting other educators into her classroom via Skype. In addition to her work in the classroom, she is the assistant coach for the school's track and cross-country teams. Always looking to improve her pedagogy, Bowden has attended professional development with Disney and the San Diego Teacher Field Trip. Bowden mentors new teachers, has been an early implementer of project-based learning, and presents at district-level professional learning programs and educational technology conferences. 

Bowden earned a bachelor's degree in middle school math education at Emporia State University in 2015. 

More information about Bowden, 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, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. 

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. 

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development 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 selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at,, and

For more information, 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 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.

Lynne Russo 
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