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The Milken Educator Awards discover science teacher Aja Brown in the Bronx and honor her with $25,000

Brown introduced new instructional practices that have revitalized the entire science department at Metropolitan Soundview High School

October 16, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Aja Brown knows first-hand that you learn science best by experiencing it. Through inquiry-based projects in her living environment class, her freshman use the scientific method to research, investigate and conduct experiments to learn how science is connected to their everyday lives. And the conclusion is clear: Brown knows she's succeeding because she's got their full attention. However, all the attention was on her reaction during today's school assembly.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley surprised Brown with the prestigious Milken Educator Award together with John Sullivan, New York City Department of Education deputy superintendent and principal leadership facilitator, to recognize this local leader in science education who helped develop the district’s new science curriculum for grades 6-12. 

Brown is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition and unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for 2017-18.

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

Brown analyzes her student's data like a scientist and modifies her lessons to better serve those struggling with the content, always providing opportunities to improve their critical-thinking and literacy skills. Her inquiry-based instructional approach has inspired other science teachers to follow her lead; integrating research and experiments into their course study is building a strong foundation for active learning at the school where 97% of the student body are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

"As a female science teacher in an urban school, Aja Brown has the unique position not only to inspire all of her students to love science, but to interest her female students in the world of STEM – to uncover the 'Hidden Figures' of our era," said Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and co-founder, who created the Awards. "The 'what if' awareness she instills in these young minds may just propel tomorrow's great discoveries. The next technological advances and innovation could start right here in the Bronx. That's the power of education."

"Aja Brown is the kind of teacher who makes science come alive for her students," said New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. "She listens to her students and finds new ways each day to engage and interest them in the study of the world. From incorporating literature and research in lessons, to sharing knowledge and resources with colleagues, to volunteering her time outside school to help struggling students, Aja Brown is a true ambassador for STEM and an educator of excellence."

"Too frequently we take for granted the outstanding work of our teachers and unfortunately overlook those people who make a significant difference in the daily lives of others; in particular, the lives of our children,"  said Superintendent Paul Rotondo (City-wide Transfer and District 12 High Schools). "On behalf of the New York City Department of Education, we recognize the outstanding work accomplished by Ms. Aja Brown as a recipient of the prestigious Milken Award for educators. She is an example of what great teachers do every day."   

"Aja Brown is a dedicated science teacher, focused on increasing science achievement for all students," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "Ms. Brown uses an inquiry-based approach with real life experiences—the kind of instruction that engages students, gets them excited to learn and keeps them interested in STEM. Aja Brown is helping to shape her 21st century students for success in the future and is deserving of this recognition as an educator of excellence. Congratulations!"

About Milken Educator Aja Brown
Science teacher Aja Brown is a chameleon in the classroom, adjusting her teaching strategies daily to get the most out of her students. Every day, students in her ninth-grade living environment classes at The Metropolitan Soundview High School in the Bronx interact with science in a meaningful way. Through a hands-on, data-driven approach to instruction, Ms. Brown is able to strategically plan, tier and differentiate instruction for her students. Brown incorporates assessment at the start of her lessons by having students use "Plickers" to respond to an entry point question. She immediately determines what students understand, have mastered and/or need further support. Data showed that her students learn best through listening and lab investigations, so Brown introduced a unit on dissecting fetal pigs, gathering all the supplies and curriculum on her own (including a virtual dissection option for students who had ethical issues with dissection). When her classes' New York State Regents Exam scores came in, Brown pored over them student by student, then put together a plan addressing specific content deficits and areas of concentration for the teacher handling summer school.

Brown has brought significant resources to her high-needs school, including a $20,000 science lab makeover grant from the Shell Science Lab Challenge. After her first trip to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) National Conference, Brown returned to Metrosound eager to share new teaching strategies, materials and lesson plans with colleagues. As a Common Core Fellow for Science, she helped develop curriculum and resources for the 6-12 Science Scope and Sequence for the New York City Department of Education. Brown is a member of NSTA, the Association for Multicultural Science Education, Urban Advantage, and the Mathematics Science Partnership at City College, which helps science teachers strengthen their subject-matter expertise. Last summer, Brown and other teachers participated in scientific research at Columbia University and collaborated weekly to develop related curriculum.

Students flock to Brown's classroom before and after school and at lunchtime, eager for her help with test preparation or homework. She incorporates literacy into her lessons, which include small group activities and class discussions. Brown has led a science professional learning community at Metrosound and now leads a grade-level team. She has encouraged her colleagues to incorporate inquiry-based approaches, research and experiments into their classrooms and is credited with reinvigorating Metrosound's science department.

Brown earned a bachelor's in biology science from the College of Staten Island (City University of New York) in 2006 and a master's in science education and special education from Touro College New York in 2009.

More information about Brown, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/Aja-Brown.

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, Brown'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, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. 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 www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward, and http://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 30 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.


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