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2021-22 Milken Educator Awards Tour Launches in West Virginia, Honoring Michelle Wolfe of Baker with $25,000

East Hardy High School teacher creates literary community where students shine

February 16, 2022

Santa Monica, Calif., — The teen writers at East Hardy High School in Baker, West Virginia, publish their work in curated anthologies, shine in writing competitions and perform original verse at poetry events – all thanks to the passion and encouragement of English teacher Michelle Wolfe. But today it was Wolfe's students who celebrated her at a surprise school assembly where she received a Milken Educator Award and an unrestricted $25,000 prize. 

Baker was the first stop on the 35th Milken Educator Awards anniversary tour honoring America's heroes, innovative and dedicated teachers. Wolfe is among more than 60 educators nationwide who will be recognized during the 2021-22 school year in front of appreciative colleagues, local and state education officials, and media. 

Stephanie Bishop, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, joined West Virginia Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch to make the announcement.

"The influence of a talented educator can last a lifetime," Bishop said. "Michelle Wolfe gives her students the gift of confidence and a passion for writing and analysis that will serve them far beyond the walls of her classroom. I am delighted to welcome her as the first Milken Educator Award recipient of the 2021-22 school year."

Wolfe is the first recipient from the Hardy County School District since 1994. 

"Ms. Wolfe embodies the purpose and passion of today's effective educator. She has knocked down the walls of her classroom and school to extend learning to far reaches of the world," said Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch. "Her lessons and learning experiences create sparks among her students that have profound impacts. She has given them one of the most important gifts possible – a love of learning and a vision for their future." 

"We are grateful to the Milken Family Foundation for once again honoring a West Virginia teacher," said Superintendent Burch. "It means so very much that the national tour is starting here with this outstanding educator. This award not only recognizes excellence in the profession, but it allows Ms. Wolfe to join a family of local and national Milken educators who will provide a network of peer connections and supports." 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award. 

More About Michelle Wolfe 

Encouraging Student Perspectives: Wolfe teaches AP English Language, creative writing, sophomore and senior English. She ties projects and assignments to current events and real-world examples, encouraging students to share their work with peers. Teens write about their own lives and perspectives, comfortable tackling sensitive subjects in the trusted community Wolfe creates. She helps students find pride in their work and builds on each pupil's individual strengths and needs. 

College Credit: Always looking to expand the opportunities available to students, Wolfe got a master's degree in 2021 specifically to teach a dual-credit college English course in partnership with nearby Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College. When she took over the class, enrollment more than doubled. 

A Cultured Community: Wolfe is a popular choice for committee work because colleagues see her as an informed leader who makes solid decisions based on what will most benefit students. She serves on teams for school leadership, district curriculum and state ELA textbook selection, as well as East Hardy's intervention-focused Student Assistance Team. Wolfe has written numerous grants to fund unique cultural experiences for students, who have attended live theater, hosted spoken word and dramatic performances, and visited museums in Washington, D.C. Wolfe also worked with the West Virginia Humanities Council to create the Hardy Portal Project, a technology-equipped standalone structure that connected students and community members with people all over the world, including Rwanda, Qatar, Afghanistan, Mexico, Nigeria, Germany, and several American cities. 

Whole-Child Support: Wolfe gets to know every student as a whole person, providing a base of stability, support and consistency. She sponsors the National Honor Society and is involved with the Hardy County Community Foundation, Lost River Projects and the American Woodmark Foundation, organizations her students work with on environmental and other community service projects. On social media, former students praise Wolfe in their post-secondary success stories for inspiring, encouraging and believing in them.

Education: Wolfe earned a bachelor's in secondary education from Shepherd University in 2009 and a master's in English from Grand Canyon University in 2021.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward),  Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward).

For more information, visit MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at MFF.org.

MEDIA CONTACT
Jana Rausch, (310) 435-9259 (cell), jrausch@mff.org