Monongalia County educator honored with ‘Oscar of Education’ at ceremony she didn’t know was for her

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A Mononglia County educator is $25,000 richer Tuesday.

That’s the reward granted by the Milken Family Foundation for Jennifer Reaves, a WVU alumna and veteran educator at Mylan Park Elementary who was recognized at a surprise ceremony with what’s known as the “Oscar for Teachers” — the Milken Educator Award.

“I have no words,” she said, laughing. “I feel like I’m in a fog. I’m extremely honored.”

She paused and added: “I have no words.”

It’s not something that’s easy to prepare for — becoming one of just dozens across the entire nation honored and the first in Monongalia County since 2003.

Reaves, a former second grade teacher and now in her tenth year as the Technology Integration Specialist at Mylan Park Elementary, didn’t know she would receive the award.

In fact, she didn’t even know she was nominated.

That’s how the Milken Educator Awards work. As Dr. Jane Foley, Senior VP for the awards program, said Tuesday: “You don’t find us. We find you.”

Mylan Park Elementary School students gather for the surprise ceremony.

Reaves was doing what she does best when her name was called: taking photos and video of the event to commemorate. She just didn’t know it was a comemmoration for her.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” she said, sheepishly.

But how, and why, did she win? Reaves has a theory.

“I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn computer science and coding in the schools,” she said. “(Principal) Lupo has been so supportive in helping me to make that vision possible here at Mylan Park. Because it is something that I truly believe in. I truly believe that every student deserves the opportunity to learn.”

This almost didn’t happen though. Ten years ago, Reaves was having a difficult time deciding if she wanted to leave the classroom — spending her career as a second grade teacher — to join Mylan Park Elementary in this role.

“I was very torn,” she said. “I’m a classroom teacher at heart. I truly believe in having a classroom community and making a difference with students.”

Reaves accepting the $25,000 financial award following the surprise ceremony Tuesday.

But she came to a realization with the help of the school principal that led to her taking the position.

“The thing that put me over the edge and made me take the job was when she said, ‘Right, but if you take this job you will make a difference for every student in our school — not just the 24 kids in our classroom.'”

So Reaves decided she wanted to reinvent the job, truly bringing the concept of technology integration into individual classrooms throughout the school and making computer science and coding a hands-on, engaging activity.

“I truly believe that our students are the future — and especially in our state that they deserve the opportunity to have a high quality education,” she said. “I hope that every day when I come to work — that’s what I strive for to do — to make a difference in the life of every student in our school and in our state.”

The Milken Educator Awards have been presented by the Milken Family Foundation since 1987, awarding teachers from elementary and secondary schools, principals, and specialists from around the nation who further excellence in education.

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