Like her fellow teachers at Slaughter Elementary, Laura Laiche sat quietly Monday morning at a school assembly with many prominent people in attendance, never realizing they were all there for her.
Laiche walked away with $25,000, no strings attached. In a ceremony reminiscent of the Oscars, founder Lowell Milken teased the audience for several minutes before being handed a special envelope to open.
“And the Milken Educator Award goes to… Laura Laiche! Milken shouted.
It’s a surprise that never gets old.
With an embarrassed smile on her face as the students chanted ‘Go Miss Laiche’, the modest English and language arts teacher walked to the front of the room to stand next to a check oversized bearing his name and basking in his newfound fame.
In doing so, she joins an elite club. The Milken Family Foundation is honoring 60 teachers across the country this year and Laiche is one of approximately 2,800 teachers the foundation has honored since Milken began giving the award in 1987.
Laiche, who is in 11th grade teaching and ninth as a teacher at Slaughter Elementary, sees the award as validation not just for her but for her entire profession.
“It shows how important your work is,” she said. “It puts into perspective that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and making a difference.”
Several former Milken winners from Louisiana were in the audience to cheer on Laiche.
Stephanie Whetstone works at Bains Elementary in nearby West Feliciana Parish and won in 2018. For her, the award was transformational. She’s used the money to bring long, simmering plans to the forefront, allowing her to get National Board certification and pursue a master’s degree, which she’s halfway through.
“It was a thought, but not a reality, something I would have liked to do in the future, but it pushed me to do it,” Whetstone said.
Laiche said she had no idea anything special was going to happen as she sat in on Monday’s school assembly. In fact, she said, she had never even heard of the award before, but her presence on Monday was expected.
“They really wanted to make sure I was there today,” she said.
Principal Kimberly Glascock, however, has known about it for about a month and managed to keep it a secret.
She noted that Laiche won Teacher of the Year for East Feliciana Parish Schools in 2020. However, she said she knew Laiche was special from the start, going back to when she passed her first interview for her job at the primary school of about 500 pupils located in the north. of Zacharias.
“I could tell she was totally dedicated to education, and it was her life,” Glascock said.
A current student and a former student started Monday’s program, a potential clue that Laiche missed.
Clover Leggett, a current third grader, sparked laughs with an imaginative story about an evil leprechaun. State Superintendent Cade Brumley joked that he was looking forward to the movie version.
Leggett was followed by Griffin Goudeau, a fourth grader who had Laiche as a teacher last year. Goudeau read an essay about Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old girl who rose to fame as the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960.
Laiche has been teaching third grade since coming to Slaughter Elementary and she said it was a great age.
“They still love their teacher and they love coming to learn,” she said.
Keisha Netterville, superintendent of schools for East Feliciana Parish, said she had attended Laiche’s classes before and was continually impressed.
“The passion comes through, the careful planning, the lessons, its delivery, everything,” Netterville said. “She doesn’t just teach the whole class, she teaches individual students.”
Although unfamiliar with the Milken Award, Laiche is familiar with the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP. It is a school reform effort used by Slaughter Elementary, which is sponsored by another Milken entity, the National Institute for Teaching Excellence. Laiche serves as a mentor teacher to the other elementary school teachers.
In addition to the $25,000, winners of the Milken Educator Award will travel to a national awards ceremony. They will also benefit from connecting with other Milken winners, past and present, joining an extensive professional network of educators.
“It’s not about the money,” Lowell Milken said. “It’s about being recognized, celebrated and honoured.”
Another goal of the prize is to try to get the attention of the students themselves, he said.
“We really want to make a powerful statement about kids considering becoming teachers one day,” Milken said.