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Milken Honor Surprises Mitchell Teacher

Kealey Bultena
Amanda Christensen talks to her students after discovering she's a Milken Educator Award winner.

A Mitchell teacher has won a prestigious national award that comes with $25,000. An assembly this week surprised the fourth grade educator with the honor.  

Local and state leaders gather at Longfellow Elementary in Mitchell to recognize a teacher. Students and staff attend the assembly under false pretenses before they find out the real reason they gather. Greg Gallagher with the Milken Family Foundation announces that one of the educators in the gym is set to receive a celebrated award.

"The Milken Award says, in a very public way, that greatness in education should be recognized, too," Gallagher says. "The Milken Award is so prestigious that it is called the Oscars of Teaching."

Gallagher says the organization doesn’t take applications but that they find teachers who display excellence.

The winner is Amanda Christensen. Even when pressed, fourth grade teacher Amanda Christensen claims the esteem extends to the rest of the school.

"We’re really a team, because you are who you spend the most time with, so because I work in such an amazing district with such wonderful people, I beg, borrow, and steal all the time," Christensen. "I consult others. How can I do this better? What am I doing wrong? How can I improve? I just feel like, because of that collaboration, we are who we are."

Christensen is South Dakota’s only 2017 award recipient. She gains recognition, a spot on a team of teachers from across the country, and $25,000.

Listen to how the awards ceremony turned to surprise and hear an extended interview with teacher Amanda Christensen.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).