An Anchorage teacher was surprised to learn today that he was the recipient of the Milken Educator award from the Milken Family Foundation. The Milken Family Foundation is a national group whose goals are improving education, public health and medical research. The award is given to recognize teachers for their dedication to both their school and their communities.
Milken’s Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley described the award as an “Oscar for teaching”. She even presented the winner’s name in true Academy Awards fashion.
“It is an honor to announce the newest recipient of the Milken Educator award,” Foley said to an all-school assembly at Chester Valley Elementary. “May I have the envelope? The Milken Educator Award goes to… Paul Campbell!”
30-year-old Paul Campbell was certainly surprised at his selection as a Milken Educator. Most people in the Chester Valley Elementary lunchroom didn’t know the purpose of the assembly. Chester Valley Principal Adrianne Grenier was one of few people in on the secret.
“It was easy for me (to keep the secret) because I tucked myself in the corner, and the way I told staff was, ‘This is going to be a socio-emotional learning assembly focusing on being thankful,'” Grenier said. “So in my mind, that’s what I had it as and that’s what I was planning for.”
The assembly began with introductions from Dr. Deena Paramo, the Anchorage school district superintendent, and Dr. Michael Johnson, Alaska’s education commissioner and a 2008 Milken Award recipient. Campbell said he was discussing proper assembly behavior with his students when his name was called.
“I was sitting next to a few of my awesome first grade students, talking to them about how we sit in an assembly and how we – well whispering to them – how we make sure we’re looking at the speaker and following our assembly guidelines,” Campbell said.
Campbell teaches first and second graders at Chester Valley Elementary in a looped classroom, which means the students he has in first grade will be his students in second grade. Foley said that Campbell was also recognized for the ways that he focused on critical thinking and socio-emotional development in his students. Campbell says he utilizes very vocal methods to engage his student.
“For one… first graders, how fun is singing?” Campbell asked the crowd. They responded in cheers. “Super fun? Yeah, it’s super fun. Also, it combines our class together and it brings us together as one school family and one classroom family. So it’s super important for us to build that community.”
The Milken Educator Award is given out nationally to teachers who have demonstrated excellent education achievement. Dr. Foley says up to 35 teachers across the country will be recognized this year. Campbell is the 15th Anchorage teacher to get the award. Among the other guests of the assembly were past Milken Educator award winners from Alaska, including Campbell’s former teacher Robert Woods, who was also unaware Campbell was going to be honored.
“I did not know he was selected,” Woods said. “All the whole assembly, I’m looking across at him as a former student. And so they announce his name and pride just comes to you immediately going, ‘So well deserved.’ And as we noticed, he’s totally shocked going, ‘Why am I any greater than anybody else?'”
Principal Grenier said the award was a great way to remind people of the work that teachers do, and often aren’t recognized for.
“So I think moments like this are so important because it takes a whole step back and recognizes a whole teacher. And it really looks at all the things that people like Mr. Campbell do,” Grenier said. “How he connects with his kids, just like they were talking about how they sings songs in class all the time, and just all of that importance of connection with the kids. Because they aren’t going to be interested in learning if they don’t connect with their teachers.”
Aside from recognition, the Milken Educator Award also comes with a $25,000 check. When asked what he plans on spending it on, Campbell initially thought of his family.
“My wife and I, we have a new baby girl, a four-and-a-half year old newborn child, so maybe college fund,” Campbell said. “I’ll have to talk with Ms. Grenier. Maybe some new things here for school.”
The Milken Foundation described the award as one for people in their early to mid careers, rather than a lifetime achievement award. While Campbell is early in his career – Chester Valley is the first school he’s taught at – he’s looking forward both in a daily and yearly way.
“My next step is we’re going to finish our turkeys this afternoon for our Thanksgiving project,” Campbell laughed. “You know, I don’t even know if I can wrap my head quite around the next transition. We always have a five-year plan or ten-year plan. I hope I’m just helping kids, whatever I’m doing.”
When Campbell walked into his class following the assembly, his students gathered around him to show him the pictures they drew of him getting his award. One student even drew him a congratulatory pizza.