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Making History Class a Gas Earns Teacher Brian Allman a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

West Virginia teacher shows sixth graders how to take the past personally at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School

November 07, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,  History is a gas for students in Brian Allman's sixth-grade class in Buckhannon, WV. Almost literally, as it turns out. Allman simulates a nerve gas attack in his social studies class to give students at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School the flavor of a soldier's dire predicament during World War I. It's just one of the many ways Allman makes what could seem like dusty old history spring to life for his students. Whether it's guest speakers for Holocaust Remembrance Day or a field trip to a Native American burial ground, Allman puts his students in the historical moment and helps them experience it—then shows them how to apply the lessons going forward. It's working. Buckhannon-Upshur students are thriving in regional and state social studies competitions and applying their enhanced critical thinking skills to all their academic endeavors.

Yet it was Allman experiencing a dramatic moment of personal history this morning at a surprise school assembly where he was presented with a Milken Educator Award by CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching Dr. Candice McQueen and West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine. An appreciative Allman was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is the only Milken Educator Award winner from West Virginia this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20.

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.”

Allman is bringing that future closer by increasing student scrutiny of the past, honing their analytical skills as well as raising awareness of their individual agency in academics and the greater world beyond. A caring educator adept in curbing behavioral problems even as he boosts academic performance, Allman teaches students to seize control of life and write their own personal history every day. Working as a mentor to new teachers, boosting school technology use and coaching both boys and girls basketball, Allman is clearly all in for Buckhannon-Upshur.

"An inspiring teacher like Brian Allman shows students how to make history even as they're studying it," said McQueen. "Moving students out of the classroom context and guiding them to make real-life connections is what sets excellent educators apart. Allman's commitment and dedication to each and every student is why we're proud to welcome him as a Milken Educator."

"Brian is truly an exceptional educator, and I am thrilled that he shares his passion for social studies with so many eager students at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School," said Paine. "I had the honor of being recognized by the Milken Family Foundation at this very school in 1995, and I am proud to welcome Brian to the Milken Educator family. Today we share the good news that some of the nation's top educators are grown right here in West Virginia."

"Mr. Allman is not only an incredible educator, he is an advocate for the teaching profession," said Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus. "He is always challenging his students to give their best effort, and he expects nothing less of himself. He leads by example and shares his passion for teaching with his students, colleagues and the community."

About Milken Educator Brian Allman

Brian Allman loves finding innovative ways to engage students in his sixth-grade social studies classroom at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School (BUMS) in Buckhannon, West Virginia. When the class studies World War I, Allman simulates mustard gas to show students what soldiers experienced in the trenches. He sets up a real assembly line when they learn about the Industrial Revolution and takes students to a Native American burial ground and Moundsville Penitentiary, a now-closed Gothic-style prison. Allman's students learn to support their opinions with facts, think about the future impact of their decisions and discuss sensitive issues. During a unit on World War II, Allman invited a student's mother to talk to the class about her family history; her great-grandparents were killed in a concentration camp. Allman planned a schoolwide assembly for Holocaust Remembrance Day, then joined a colleague's class on a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Allman builds relationships with students who are at an impressionable age, challenging them to set and exceed their own academic and personal goals. He modifies or enhances lessons to meet the needs of all students and emphasizes the important role each individual plays in the world. When a group of boys with a history of disrespectful behavior came to BUMS, Allman took them into his own enrichment group. Drawing on ideas from A Call to Men, a nonprofit group that focuses on character education for young men, he challenged the students to take responsibility for their actions and provided them with a daily support system. The boys worked with Allman on a now-popular monthly newsletter, interviewing teachers and fellow students and writing stories about BUMS events and culture. Allman's dedication to his students and passion are contagious, and students look to him for guidance long after leaving the sixth grade.

Allman revived the school's social studies fair and sent three projects to the regional competition last year; one team won second place at the state level, competing against eighth graders. He mentors new teachers and works with student teachers from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Allman chairs the interview and textbook selection committees and has served on the BUMS Faculty Senate, as well as teams for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, technology and school leadership. Allman has coached both the boys' and girls' basketball teams and regularly attends sporting events, concerts and recitals to support his students outside the classroom. As Grand Chapter Advisor of Alpha Sigma Phi, his college fraternity, Allman helps young adults prepare for life after graduation.

Allman earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education in 2007 from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a master's degree in educational leadership in 2015 from Marshall University.

More information about Allman, 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, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, 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 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 selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour 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 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 
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