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Sioux Falls Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Award

The Milken Educator Award is known as “the Oscars of Teaching.” Each year a task force appointed by each state’s department of education considers teachers who go above and beyond in their classrooms. The recipients are then surprised with a 25-thousand dollar award.

Wednesday morning, a high school teacher in Sioux Falls joined the ranks of Milken Educators across the nation. 

Students and teachers pour into the Washington High School gym for a school-wide assembly. Sioux Falls school board members…administrators…and even Education Secretary Ben Jones are seated near a podium. Then, the principal introduces a stranger: Jane Foley, senior Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation.

She tells the crowd the foundation exists to recognize teachers—and surprise them with a financial award they can spend as they wish. Foley asks for the envelope and announces the winner to uproarious applause.

Alison Ter Horst teaches psychology at Washington. She’s also one of three teachers to pilot the Teacher Pathway program in Sioux Falls—a class that introduces high schoolers to the teaching profession. Everyday, Ter Horst tells her students what they’re learning is important.

“You are able to effect the lives of others. And I am just so humbled by today," she tells the assembly. "So thank you so much.”

Ter Horst says teachers are often underappreciated, and students can be discouraged from becoming teachers because of low salaries.

“This year I started off by just saying there are different currencies than money. If someone comes back and says my life is forever changed because of you, that’s a different currency than what you get paid each year, and it takes you through the rest of the years.”

Ter Horst is the only Milken Award winner in South Dakota this year.

Regional Health supports Education and Healthcare reporting on SDPB.