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Topeka Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award
Logan Elementary's Kristine Becker among up to 40 honored nationwide for excellence, innovation and leadership in education
January 18, 2023
Topeka, Kan., — Fourth grade teacher Kristine Becker of Logan Elementary in Topeka received the surprise of a lifetime today when she was presented with a national Milken Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation. The prestigious recognition comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize and honors outstanding educators across the country for excellence in and out of the classroom.
Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson presented the Award at a schoolwide assembly in front of cheering students, proud colleagues, local and state dignitaries, and the media. Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," 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.
"Whether transformed into a courtroom, campfire ground, or spy headquarters, Kristine's classroom is a window to the world. These rich learning experiences are providing students with tangible skills to succeed in school and life," said Bishop, who is a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator herself. "Beyond the classroom, Kristine is active on school committees, mentors fellow teachers and spreads effective practices in the district. We are thrilled to celebrate Kristine today and welcome her to our diverse and talented Milken Educator Network."
In addition to today's celebration, Becker becomes a lifelong member of the Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 outstanding educators and leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education.
"Kristine is the caliber of teacher every student deserves," said Commissioner Watson. "The creativity she brings to her classroom every day creates excitement in her students to learn and sparks their curiosity. I am so pleased to see her talent being recognized by the Milken Foundation."
Since the initiative's inception in 1987, 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.
More About Kristine Becker
Bolstering Curriculum with a Hands-on Approach: In Becker's fourth grade classroom, she creates immersive environments where students have so much fun, they hardly realize they are learning. A master of classroom transformations, Becker's unit on branches of government results in the classroom becoming a courtroom, where students take on the roles of judge, plaintiff, defendant, jurors and attorneys as they learn about the judicial system. She has held mock elections to mirror the national presidential vote, built a fake campfire in the middle of her classroom-turned-campsite for science experiments, and created a spy headquarters with black lights and glow-in-the-dark accessories. During project-based learning, students plan and sell breakfast items as they explore entrepreneurship, and concepts like supply and demand. The students connect deeply with the curriculum while building a lifetime of memories, and these creative methods contribute to meaningful results: The school's fourth grade student proficiency nearly doubled in ELA and more than doubled in math from 2019 to 2021.
Leadership in the Classroom and Beyond: Becker is well-respected and inspiring throughout her building and district where she has worked on curriculum, grade card realignment and social committees. She personalizes student learning through small-group instruction, provides opportunities for student choice, and embraces technology, leveraging multiple adaptive learning platforms to enable self-paced mastery of concepts. Becker earned National Geographic Educator Certification and created the district’s first elementary STEM fair, building lessons and programs colleagues can bring to life in their own classrooms. As a first-year and student teacher mentor, she helps to build skills and competency for the next generation of Logan educators.
A Focus on Relationships: Becker builds relationships with every student and creates a classroom that fosters compassion and respect, highlights students’ personal interests, and makes students feel safe to try new things and push beyond their comfort zone. She tutors students after school, teaches summer school and coaches Girls on the Run. During pandemic school building closures, Becker delivered notes to students’ homes and went the extra mile to create engaging remote content, including a video series in which she dressed like a pioneer on the Oregon Trail and students made choices to help her find food, secure shelter and survive the arduous journey.
Education: Becker is a graduate of Emporia State University, earning a bachelor's in elementary education in 2013 and a master's in instructional coaching with a concentration in elementary STEM in 2016.
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 this April, 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 MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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. 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 MFF.org.