LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC)– What began as a routine assembly at Anne Beers Elementary in Southeast ended with a teacher in tears as she realized the gathering was scheduled so she could be honored with a $25,000 prize for her efforts in education.

The Milken Family Foundation presented third grade teacher Jacqueline Simms with the Milken Educator Award Wednesday and, since the selection process is completely confidential, she had no idea she was in line for the endowment.

“The idea behind these awards is that everyone likes to hand out prizes to our heroes,” MFF co-founder Mike Milken said. “We give Grammys to musicians, gold medals to Olympians, Nobels to scientists and others. But we give too little recognition to the people with society’s most important job – educators.”

The Milken awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. They are bestowed upon early- to mid-career teachers who have made exceptional contributions to their school communities and who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership.

Simms has many accomplishments that put her in the running for the 26-year-old award, according to Milken.

She leads the Incentive and Rewards program where students earn “Cheetah Bucks” for displaying positive behavior. When funds were not available to provide extra learning time for students, Simms established an all-volunteer Saturday school by recruiting staff and community members to participate on a rotating basis. She started a mentoring program with a law firm, a leadership skills building program with the F.B.I. and partnered with a local theater to introduce students to playwriting skills. She also conducts home visits over the summer to build relationships with families and mentors student teachers.

Joining Milken at the surprise presentation were DC State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Jones, District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Interim Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Leonard, At-Large Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Education David Catania and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander.

Jacqueline Simms in tears after finding out she won a Milken Educator Award and $25,000. (Credit: Milken Family Foundation)

Jacqueline Simms in tears after finding out she won a Milken Educator Award and $25,000. (Credit: Milken Family Foundation)

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