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Third Grade Trips to the Solar System and Ancient Olympics Earn Teacher Nicole Silva a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Imaginative Carteret, NJ, educator changes lives and boosts academic performance at Nathan Hale Elementary

December 07, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Anything can happen and usually does in Nicole Silva's third-grade classroom at Nathan Hale Elementary in Carteret, NJ. Whether students are traipsing the solar system using augmented reality via Google Expeditions, building their own Olympic games using recycled materials or learning to slam dunk statistics and fractions with a basketball mini hoop, Silva's lessons are always energetic, engaging and hands-on. She employs differentiated learning strategies that integrate both special needs and general students, with thoughtfully tailored lessons to maximize student involvement and achievement.

But it was Silva's achievements taking center stage earlier today 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 New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet. An appreciative Silva was named a 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from New Jersey this year, and is among the up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

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."

Central to that forward-looking mission for Silva is teaching the whole child and incorporating mindfulness into her classroom, helping students recognize their own stressors and take breaks to regroup. Her holistic educational concerns extend beyond bonding with her students to nurturing her colleagues as well. She serves on building and district committees for curriculum, mentors novice teachers and leads professional development workshops.

"Creative teachers like Nicole Silva who take the initiative and employ new approaches to learning prove every day that the future of our country is in our classrooms," said Foley.

"Ms. Silva exemplifies the kind of quality teaching we see in New Jersey schools," said Repollet. "This well-deserved award shines a spotlight on her students, her school, and all of the other outstanding educators throughout the state."

"Ms. Silva is the type of teacher every parent wishes for their children," said Superintendent of Carteret School District Rosa Diaz. "In her classroom, parents know their children will be safe, their hearts will be nurtured, and their minds will be challenged. The Carteret Public Schools' community feels honored and privileged to have such a devoted professional on our staff."

"Nicole Silva is an extraordinary teacher," said Principal of Nathan Hale Elementary School Tara Romero. "She is compassionate, enthusiastic and energetic. She deeply cares for students beyond the school walls and her passion for teaching is infectious. She embodies a true professional, and I feel truly honored to have her teach in our building."

About Milken Educator Nicole Silva
In Nicole Silva's third-grade classroom at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Carteret, New Jersey, students take charge of their own learning. They track their own progress toward goals they set together with Silva, readjusting the targets monthly based on their mastery and striving to be included on her "Wall of Fame." Silva builds an impressive rapport with both general and special needs students. She differentiates lessons to meet the needs of every child, incorporating creative and engaging centers that reach beyond the classroom walls and bring the outside world to Nathan Hale. Students learn about forces of nature and "visit" the solar system via augmented reality with Google Expeditions. Closer to home, they stage presentations for local veterans' groups. During the last Olympic Games, Silva built multiple units around an Olympics-themed book in the "Magic Tree House" series. Students researched the original games, comparing them to modern times, wrote newspaper-style articles arguing for the inclusion of women, and created their own Olympics-style games using recycled materials. Always looking for hands-on activities that connect academics to real life, Silva set up a miniature basketball hoop during a math lesson; students recorded her statistics and used fractions to represent her score-to-miss ratio.

Silva incorporates best practices on a daily basis in her whole group, small group, peer group and individual instruction. As the third-grade team leader, she reports to administrators on grade-level progress and student achievement. Silva mentors novice teachers and has served on committees addressing curriculum, data, social studies and ELA. She presents at professional development workshops and provides training for teachers throughout the district at planning meetings and workshops. Silva's students respond in kind to her high expectations, showing some of the highest growth and achievement at the school.

Silva teaches the whole child and incorporates mindfulness into daily routines. She takes the time to listen to her students and can rattle off each one's favorite TV shows, colors, sports and toys. Silva teaches students to manage their own frustrations and identify their own stressors. They self-regulate by grabbing a backpack filled with relaxation aids, including putty and water bottles filled with glitter, and heading to the "calm-down corner" to take a break and regroup. Silva's classroom is a safe space that provides stability, respect, structure, flexibility, tolerance and acceptance, all vital for students who hail from a variety of cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds and family structures. Silva builds deep and meaningful relationships with students and families that last long past the end of the school year: Former students visit often to update her on their lives after elementary school.

Silva earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Montclair State University in 2005.

More information about Silva, 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 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21-24, 2019. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about 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 initiative, which includes powerful professional learning 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 approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded 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. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media 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 31 years ago 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 
(818) 903-6079 cell;