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“And the Winner Is …Surprise!” Missouri Middle School Science Teacher Walks Out of a School Assembly a Milken Educator & $25,000 Richer

February 11, 2016

SANTA MONICA, CA — An exceptional 7th--grade science teacher walked into a schoolwide assembly this morning with no idea that she would be walking out an hour later $25,000 richer and the recipient of a prestigious Milken Educator Award.

Deborah Siebern-Dennis, known around Bode Middle School in Saint Joseph as the “queen of classroom management,” received the surprise of her lifetime before students, colleagues, media and distinguished officials, including Dr. Margie Vandeven, Missouri Department of Education Commissioner. In true Awards show-style, her name was called out and she was given the prized navy blue envelope by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley.

Siebern-Dennis is among up to 40 educators who will receive the prestigious national honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country during the 2015-16 Awards season. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987. Siebern-Dennis is the 45th recipient in Missouri since the program was implemented in that state in 1996.

“We are delighted that Deborah has received this recognition from the Milken Educator Awards,” said Vandeven. “Deborah is a great example of the how the teaching profession enriches opportunities for Missouri students by promoting a love for learning.”

“It’s evident that Deb relishes her role as a teacher and she has a special gift to teach and inspire middle school students,” said Foley. “Her passion for science, her classroom structure, and her positive attitude motivate her students to be the best they can be. She is a master at using online resources to stretch students’ thinking and explanations in science and she is a true collaborator and mentor to her colleagues. We look forward to seeing her continue to contribute to education with the support and prestige that come with this life-changing Award.”

Students who are not excited about school love her classroom.

A lifelong learner herself, Siebern-Dennis cultivates critical thinkers who learn through hands-on activities. She believes in giving students the tools to explore and manipulate concepts on their own. They also have choices on how to demonstrate their learning via movies, voice messages, slideshows, simulation and other ways.

She’s a master at utilizing every minute she has with Bode Middle Schoolers to maximize teaching and learning. She believes in the constructivist theory of learning and with science that is a great fit. She skillfully uses the 5E instructional model to engage students in science concepts, which allows for time to engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. Her students have been described as problem-solvers, risk takers and lovers of science, thanks to Siebern-Dennis’s creativity in the classroom and leadership skills.

Whether it’s social networking, writing for the classroom blog or producing a digital short, technology is an instrumental part of Siebern-Dennis’s teaching practices. She uses it as a driving force to connect ideas to the real world and build excitement around learning. Many students come to her classroom with little to no knowledge of Internet tools and leave understanding how to make effective use of technology.

As a testament to her extraordinary commitment as a teacher who strives to find ways to help every student succeed, Siebern-Dennis’s 7th-grade students have the highest benchmark scores in the district.

She’s also an important contributor to benchmark tests and curriculum development as chair of the district science team and member of the Bode leadership group. She worked with the Bode science team to write and implement a $10,000 Toyota TAPESTRY Grant for “Mastering the Art of Communication in Science.” Siebern-Dennis, who often shares her results and strategies at local, state and national levels, is a mentor to many fellow teachers who look up to her as a school leader.

Siebern-Dennis is committed to developing a student-centered learning community where young scholars are intellectually challenged, actively engaged and inspired to learn. She coaches volleyball and track.

Siebern-Dennis graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in middle school education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2005 and a master’s degree in educational science/educational leadership from Northwest Missouri State University in 2010.

The Milken Educator Awards program has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

This year, MFF launched a #MyTeacherRocks Instagram campaign that encourages students to take selfies with their favorite teacher and describe in the caption why their teacher is special. To enter the contest, entrants are asked to follow @MilkenFamilyFdn on Instagram, post their selfie to their individual account and use the #MyTeacherRocks and #MilkenAward hashtags. Two photos with the most “likes” will be selected on February 12 and a date to be determined in April 2016. The first of the three winners was selected in November 2015.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at;;; and

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, were launched 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.