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SF Roosevelt Teacher Wins National Award

A Sioux Falls teacher is a recipient of a prestigious education honor. Teachers can’t apply for the Milken Educator Award; the foundation identifies candidates and selects them without letting the teacher know – that is, until this week at a surprise assembly.  

Hundreds of students at Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School stomp up bleachers in the gym. The band plays as they fill the stands and spill out onto the hardwood floor.

After introductions, Jane Foley with the Milken Family Foundation tells students one teacher can positively influence thousands of lives.

“One of the best teachers in the entire country out of 3 million teachers is here in your school,” Foley says.

Foley says the recipient has the potential to be a leader in education for decades.

South Dakota’s Secretary of Education Melody Schopp says the teacher recognized also wins $25,000. Then she announces the recipient of the Milken Educator Award.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
English teacher Gina Benz talks to students and staff at Roosevelt High School after her name is announced.

“And the winner is…Gina Benz!” Schopp says.

Benz pulls her hands to her face as she stands and walks to the microphone. She’s visibly stunned. Benz says she suspected a few of her colleagues but didn’t expect to hear her name.

Benz teaches English classes.

“Part of it is getting to the students’ hearts right away, and saying, ‘This is why this book matters to you. Even though it was written in 1850 among a bunch of white puritans in New England, it really still matters to you and that’s why it’s still published today,’” Benz says. “So we get to the heart of the matter. What are the lessons this book is teaching us? How does it help us to be better people?”

Benz says students have many obligations, so she includes reading opportunities in class. She says that allows them to personally connect with the material and make time for reading outside the school day.

The Milken Family Foundation awards a maximum of 40 teachers each year nationwide.

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).