Gladstone teacher makes history by receiving prestigious award

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 5:49 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A Gladstone teacher made history Thursday by being the first North Kansas City Schools educator to receive the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Margi Vandeven, alongside fellow educators and students, surprised Chapel Hills Elementary’s 2nd Grade Teacher Vanessa Thomson with the award in the gym.

“We heard it was a teacher award when they started giving those clues,” Thomson said. “I was like, ‘OK, it could be that person, that person, that person.’ But, I don’t know, I’m just lucky I guess.”

The surprise worked, as Thomson was shocked when her name was called to accept it in front of everyone cheering her on.

“My students had lots of wild guesses about what our assembly was for today and this was not one of them,” she said. “Just kind of overwhelmed with the emotion of joy and happiness . . . very exciting.”

Along with being the first NKC Schools recipient, Thomson will receive national, public recognition for her work along with $25,000 and an all-expenses-paid education forum in Los Angeles to network with fellow Milken Educators.

She’s sure her students have some ideas on how she can spend the $25,000, including maybe asking for some for themselves.

“Teachers don’t get enough recognition, so this feels really nice,” said Thomson. “Our principals give us plenty of recognition but, as a whole nationwide, you know how it goes. But I’m really, really thrilled and excited and teaching is my passion.”

She joins 40 other elementary teachers receiving the prestigious honor across the country.

“I try to treat them all like they’re my own kid and really put my heart and passion into taking care of them for the year I have them,” she said. “So, maybe that was it.”

Vanessa’s classroom is a nurturing place full of love, laughter, service to others and learning,” said Bishop, herself a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. “Bringing education to life, particularly for children who speak English as a second language, takes a special kind of teacher. Vanessa captivates her students’ minds and encourages them to learn from the world around them.”

Since the initiative’s inception in 1987, more than $140 million in funding -- including more than $73 million in individual Awards -- has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative. That includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

“Thanks to the Milken Family Foundation for shining a light on the incredible educators like Vanessa who make Missouri schools great,” said Vandeven. “It’s clear that Vanessa works tirelessly to meet each of her students where they are, and takes pride and ownership in their success, both in and out of the classroom.”

To learn more about Vanessa Thomson, click here.