AMMON – When first-grade teacher Anna Attebury went to work this morning, she had no idea she’d be coming home with a giant check for $25K.
But that’s exactly what happened – and on her birthday no less.
Attebury, who teaches at White Pine Charter Elementary, was surprised at a Wednesday morning assembly with the news that she had won a National Milken Educator Award – dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching.”
“I was not expecting this at all,” Attebury said. “I’m very proud of myself and my students.”
State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra presented the award to Attebury in front of a crowd of students, teachers, school staff, and state education officials.
“In her teaching and leadership, Anna Attebury exemplifies our goals for Idaho elementary students, from literacy and STEM skills to positive behavior,” Ybarra said. “She’s amazing and it’s no wonder she earned this remarkable award.”
The award, which includes a cash prize and networking and mentoring opportunities, is given to select K-12 teachers across the country for excellence in education. Teachers cannot apply for it, and no nominations are taken.
“We find you,” said Greg Gallagher, the senior program director for the Milken Family Foundation.
The selection process is confidential, but Gallagher said that Attebury was chosen because she is an “incredible STEM teacher who is a leader in her school and district.”
“She makes STEM fun, and to turn first graders into future scientists is really incredible,” he said.
Attebury leads an after-school STEM club, leads a behavior intervention team, is a member of the school’s leadership team, mentors new teachers, is a curriculum coordinator, and works with students who have learning disabilities.
She also brings hands-on STEM learning into the classroom. Right now, her class is learning about Egypt and the kids plan to mummify apples. When they read stories like “Rapunzel” or “Hansel and Gretel,” they also engage in activities like building a way into Rapunzel’s tower or building a jail for the witch.
“We learn best when we’re able to move, use our hands, and be active in our learning,” Attebury said. “(STEM is) where we’re going in this world today and where careers are heading. If we can start that at a young age, kids are ready for the world.”
In addition to honoring Attebury, Gallagher also hopes the award ceremony inspired young students to become a teacher themselves one day.
The tactic seemed to be working.
“I want to be her,” Eleanor VanSickle, 6, said of her teacher, Ms. Attebury, after the assembly.
Ron Cote, executive director of White Pine Charter Schools, agreed that the award was a step toward retaining teachers in the profession.
“Good teachers are leaving for a myriad of reasons,” he said. “Teaching is getting harder and harder and harder … so it’s just important for teachers to feel valued and be recognized for the work they do.”
While other professionals stand to earn MVP awards, Heismans, Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, or Nobels, teachers haven’t had that kind of recognition.
“That’s just wrong, and the Milken Foundation set out to change that,” Gallagher said. “Teachers have the most important job in society because they are trusted with providing all (students) with bright futures.”
Among the audience members were past Milken honorees, including Dane Beorchia and Tiffany Lemos, Pocatello teachers who won the award last spring.
They both said it was fun to be on the other side of a Milken assembly and watch a fellow teacher joining their ranks.
“It can feel thankless, so it’s good to see people get recognized,” Beorchia said.
“I don’t think anyone works harder than a teacher,” Lemos agreed.
Alysa Trust, the vice principal of White Pine Charter Schools, said that though Attebury is in her sixth year as a teacher, she has the wealth of knowledge of someone with 20 years of experience.
“She’s all in all the time,” she said. “Everything she does is for the school and for our students and I think that’s what makes her an exceptional teacher … she does what is best for kids.”
Attebury joins more than 2,900 educators from across the county who have won the award. In addition to the cash prize, Attebury will also attend an all-expenses-paid forum in Los Angeles with other Milken honorees, where they will network and discuss how to increase their impact on K-12 education. She will also have an opportunity to participate in a mentoring program with a veteran Milken educator who will support and coach her throughout her career.
“We search all over the country to find the best of the best,” Gallagher said. “Your teacher might be relatively unknown outside of their school district but that’s going to change today.”