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Elementary School Thrill Ride: Madison, Alabama, Sixth Grade Teacher Amara Alexander Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Alexander from Horizon Elementary receives Award during surprise all-school assembly

November 29, 2016

Santa Monica, Calif. — An Alabama teacher whose students used their physics skills to build roller coasters in class found herself on a thrill ride of a different sort when she walked into a surprise school assembly and was presented with the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Sixth-grade teacher Amara Alexander was recognized for her commitment to her students, colleagues and the community as the newest recipient of the $25,000 cash award, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley presented Alexander with the national honor, joined by Alabama State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance and Madison City School District Superintendent Dr. Dee O. Fowler.  Alexander teaches at Horizon Elementary School in Madison.

"Amara Alexander is a gifted teacher who passionately explores the creative side of science in the classroom," said Foley. "Her multidisciplinary approach boosts student engagement, propelling academic achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Training our nation's future leaders in these areas is essential to succeeding in a global economy, and Amara is setting them on the right path. I commend Amara on this well-deserved recognition and look forward to her contributions to the Milken Educator Network."

"The Milken Educator Award is a direct reflection of Amara Alexander's passion to generate excitement about science and interest in STEM-related careers among her students," Sentance said. "By using daily targets, guiding questions and an inquiry-based approach, she keeps her students engaged in the process and promotes important real-world skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving."

At Horizon Elementary School, Alexander presents students with a cross-curricular smorgasbord of learning—and her students eat it up. In Alexander's classes, students explore science by dancing, singing, writing songs, researching, designing, building and teaching their peers. For example, during a unit on weather disasters, students were kept engaged by readying Ninth Ward, a young adult novel about Hurricane Katrina. Making physics fun, her sixth-graders build roller coasters, putting their science lessons to use as they collaborate to determine the optimal slopes of the tracks at different intervals.

Alexander's students post some of the district's highest scores on assessments, in part because she often lets students help with the teaching while she facilitates the discussion. By using daily targets, guiding questions and an inquiry-based approach, Alexander keeps students engaged in the process and promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

For English Language Learners, Alexander deftly differentiates curriculum, providing appropriately leveled materials and grouping students to spur participation in discussions and experiments. Students and parents alike respect Alexander's commitment to excellence and ability to generate excitement among her future scientists and engineers.

The family connection to education comes naturally to Alexander, since she is a second-generation Milken Educator: She even invites her mother Tammy Alexander (AL '98) to teach with her every year on Earth Day.

Building positive relationships with all stakeholders by inviting families, colleagues and administrators to participate in classroom activities with her students, Alexander brings out the best in one and all. An energetic educator who is creative as well as practical, Alexander is active in Project Lead the Way, heads up Horizon's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) efforts, and directs the school's extended-day program. As a GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully) program advisor, Alexander mentors teenage girls, facilitates college tours, teaches resumé-writing and involves girls in community service.

Alexander is a graduate of Alabama A&M University. She earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in elementary education in 2007 and 2010 respectively.

To learn more about Alexander and to view photos and a video from today's award assembly, visit

The 2016-17 Award season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards. 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, Alexander's honor includes membership in the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum this spring in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, 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 Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or to further their own professional development. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

Regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events are shared on MFF social media profiles at,,, and using the #MilkenAward hashtag. Details are also available on the Awards homepage at or can be obtained by calling MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. 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
(818) 903-6079 cell;
Jana Rausch
Director of Media and Public Affairs
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell