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First teacher from Bentonville wins Milken Educator Award in 35 year history

The Milken Family Foundation awarded one local teacher "the Oscar of teaching."

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — A creative fourth-grade teacher from Bentonville got the surprise of her life when she won a national honor Wednesday, April 27. 

The Milken Family Foundation paid a special visit to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to honor Kamisha Burlingame with the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

The Milken Family Foundation doesn’t accept applications or nominations, and it likes to keep the selection process confidential. So, Kamisha wasn’t the only one surprised. Since the award process is so secret, one can only guess why they were selected for this prestigious award.

"Just transforming my classroom into a fun learning experience that some of them may never ever experience," Burlingame said "Like going on an airplane or being on a construction site just different experiences. That’s just kind of what I do preparing them for lifelong learning."

More than 60 schools across the country have teachers who are specially picked for the award that is described as "the Oscar of teaching."

"A point of pride for us is that we are now considered the nation's preeminent teacher recognition program. We've been coined the Oscars of teaching," said Jane Foley, Senior VP for the Milken Family Foundation.

The Milken Foundation gave away $70 million to teachers at each of the schools honored.

While she joins a highly regarded group of educators, Burlingame will also receive $25,000 to spend however she’d like and an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles, California. She says this money came just in time for a priceless gift coming in a few months.

“We’re about to have a baby here in August," she said. "I’ve been trying to figure out childcare and how we’re going to afford this, things like that. And so that’s truly a blessing in disguise."

Burlingame says this award means a lot and it makes her want even more to be that teacher that shows their students they matter.

The ripple effect goes beyond just the teacher who gets honored. The whole school feels it.

"So often when we leave a school, one person has been recognized but we'll get a message from the principal, that assembly lifted everybody today," Foley said. "We all needed to hear the message that our work is valued and that our work is so important to our students and our society."

Which brings up the question of why give this award, what's the inspiration?

"The goals are very specific for the award," Foley said. "The first thing is we find the people that represent the top talent in the profession and give them an incentive to stay in education. The second goal is to bring public recognition to the good news and the results in education. We don't celebrate good news often enough."

It's always good news when our teachers, who often go so underpaid and underappreciated, get recognized for all that they do. 

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