- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Lisa Richard, a third-grade teacher at Lebanon’s Pioneer School, won the $25,000 so-called “Oscar of Teaching” award for elevating her students year-round with an energy and passion her principal says has no “off switch.”

Just 35 educators nationwide will win a Milken Educator Award this year, and Richard - a former dropout who did not earn a GED until age 27 - is particularly deserving, said Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, which for three decades has specialized in honoring the U.S.’s very best educators.

“Lisa Richard’s natural sense of connection and engagement with her students motivates and inspires them to achieve their personal bests,” Foley said. “Lisa’s personal story of resilience and determination embodies the Milken Educator Award’s motto, ‘The future belongs to the educated.’”

The lack of support that Richard experienced when she was in high school, and the doors that have opened to her since earning a bachelor and master’s degree, motivate her to teach with the determination that no child experience what she did and fall through the cracks unnoticed.

“That is my biggest passion: paying attention to that kid who no one else is,” she said Tuesday.

The judges were impressed to see that Richard creates important learning opportunities and life experiences for her students that transcend the walls of her classroom. When she realized that most of her students had never been camping, for example, Richard marshaled a group of parents and held a camping trip on school grounds, complete with tents, hot dogs, marshmallows and activities—and connected the entire event to the class’s reading curriculum, they said.

She also brings students together with residents of a local veterans’ home so that both sides benefit. The students serve the veterans dinner and present research projects about the wars in which veterans served, and the residents in turn share war stories with the students.

Pioneer School is a smallish K-6 school, with about 350 students. (It was a K-8 school until this fall.) Two- thirds of the students come from low-income homes, and many families face severe economic hardships.

Richard throws summer pizza parties for families, includes them in classroom projects, and spends her own time and money to build memories for students. Realizing that some students lacked the home support to create costumes for a class People of History project, Richard stepped up to makes sure every child was outfitted and prepared, officials said.

She doesn’t teach her students to never make a mistake. Rather, she teaches them to learn from their missteps.

“Mrs. Richard is a true gift to education and to Lebanon,” Tonya Cairo, Pioneer’s principal, said in a statement. “Lisa treats her students and parents like family, and her energy and passion has no ‘off switch’!

“She has the uncanny ability to inspire all those who come in contact with her, and I feel honored to have her modeling such amazing character and joy for learning for my students every school day,” Cairo said.

Richard may use her $25,000 prize however she wishes. She also will be flown to a national convening of all the Milken winners and will be expected to share her winning techniques with other teachers.

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, https://www.oregonlive.com


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