Lamar University Teacher Education Alumna receives prestigious Milken Educator Award

It is no surprise that being a recipient of the Milken Educator Award is a life-changing experience for a teacher, especially if said recipient is the first educator in her school district to do so. Helena Park Elementary School’s, located in Nederland, Texas, fourth grade mathematics and science teacher, Jenna Dean (’15, ’20), was surprised with such an honor on Feb. 9, 2023 at a school assembly.

Jenna Dean

Recipients of this award are acknowledged for furthering excellence in education and given a $25,000 unrestricted cash award. They will join the national Milken Educator Network comprised of over 2,900 teachers, principals and specialists, and will attend an all-expenses paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, California this April. The Milken Educator Awards initiative does not have a formal application process. Instead, candidates are found through a confidential selection process with the final selection being made by the Milken Family Foundation.

“Receiving this award is the highest recognition I can think of as an educator,” said Dean. “To be recognized not only on the national level but also personally by your state education commissioner and governor is unimaginable.”

Dean was presented the award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath surrounded by her students, colleagues and school administrators. As one of 40 recipients nationwide, Dean is the first recipient from Nederland Independent School District and was awarded a check for $25,000.

When asked how she felt when Gov. Abbott announced her name, Dean was in complete disbelief. “I am still overwhelmed, shocked, and in disbelief that I have been recognized for such a prestigious award,” said Dean. “I have always thought I was a good teacher, but never in a million years did I think I would get such recognition for all my hard work! Surprised doesn’t even define the feeling I had in that moment.”

Asked if she has any words of wisdom for future educators, Dean said, “As a clinical or first-year teacher, you will have a mentor to guide you,” she said. “They want you to do your best! They are the shoulder to cry on and your biggest cheerleader. Never underestimate their power or your relationship with them.” Dean shares her mindset each day when she enters a classroom. “When going into education, do your best to ignore the negative. Education tends to get negative reviews, but the positives will outweigh the negatives,” said Dean. “We are here for the children. Not only to teach the curriculum to students but also to help guide them to being productive members of society.”

There is no doubt that receiving this award has changed Dean’s life as an educator. “Just a few weeks after receiving it, I have been offered opportunities to work with TEA on a 1 to 2-year committee,” she said. “In April, I will be flying to Los Angeles, CA to work with other educators at different levels of education within the Milken Foundation from all over the nation. Opportunities continue to arise for me to expand my network, education experience and professional development.”

Dean hopes that all future educators will strive to do their best every day and never stop learning. “No matter how many years you have been teaching, there is always more to learn and room to grow,” said Dean. “Remember, even when you least expect it, someone is always watching. You never know when it could be you receiving an award for all your efforts!”

Learn more about the Milken Educator Awards and Dean’s story.

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