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Lowell Milken Surprises Indio's Alexis Arias with 2023 Milken Educator Award for California and $25,000 Cash Prize

English and Senior Studies teacher at Desert Sands Unified School District's Amistad High School prepares students for success in post-secondary learning and life

November 16, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif. — Alexis Arias is a living example of Amistad High School's SOAR attributes – Successful, Open-minded, Active learner and Respectful – and instills those same values in her students. Today, praise for Arias' dedication to education soared to national acclaim when Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken surprised Arias with California's sole 2023 Milken Educator Award at a schoolwide assembly. Arias is the first Award recipient in the Desert Sands Unified School District since 1993.

Arias received the prestigious honor before cheering students, colleagues, dignitaries and media. The Award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that recipients can use however they choose, as well as lifelong membership to the Milken Educator Network to collaborate with fellow recipients and broaden their impact on K-12 education.

"Virtually every successful individual can point to at least one talented educator whose knowledge, care and compassion encouraged them to make the most of life's opportunities. For students at Amistad High School, Alexis Arias will be long remembered as a special leader and mentor," said Lowell Milken. "Thank you, Alexis, for your dedication to the academic and personal growth of your students, and for making education your chosen profession."

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Awards will honor up to 75 recipients across the country in 2023-24 as part of the Milken Family Foundation's Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. 2023-24 will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career.

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved – and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award.

More About Alexis Arias

A Constant Motivator and Guide: Alexis Arias understands the meaning of second chances in life. In 2017 she survived one of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. while attending a concert with her family in Las Vegas. Despite sustaining a gunshot wound and fracturing her pelvis, Arias returned to her students within weeks of her injuries, ready to continue teaching with renewed meaning. For many of Arias' students, the alternative education program at Desert Sands Unified School District's Amistad High School represents their second, and often last, chance to earn a high school diploma. Drawing from experience growing up in Indio, a community marked by a higher-than-national-average poverty rate, as well as her remarkable survival story, Arias is uniquely able to connect with and motivate her students.

Fostering a Nurturing Learning Environment and Growth Mindset: Since many of her students previously struggled to find academic success in traditional school settings, Arias employs innovative, engaging teaching methods, primarily through small group instruction, to help her students – including English language learners – master their assignments. She uses a live tracker in the classroom to monitor academic progress in real-time and organizes field trips to local colleges to promote a pathway to post-secondary education. Arias' model of instruction and core values is contributing to meaningful results. With 85% of the students facing socioeconomic disadvantages, Amistad achieved a graduation rate of 91% -- among the highest for alternative education programs in the country. In addition, Arias' work to prepare students to be "life-ready" has helped lead the school to a 93% FAFSA application rate, steady applications for employment or military service, and a continual, annual increase in the rate of students choosing to pursue post-secondary education. 

Model Member of the Community: Arias' commitment extends far beyond the classroom. Shortly after returning to school following the Las Vegas shooting, she developed a community service project for participants to perform 58 random acts of kindness, one for each life lost in Las Vegas. In addition, she serves as the junior and senior club coordinator, volleyball coach, and a curriculum writer for the district. She regularly shares her insights and expertise at statewide conferences on alternative education, including the California Continuing Education Conference and the Computer Using Educators (CUE) Conference. 

Education: Arias received a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from California State University, San Bernardino, Palm Desert Campus, in 2007; and a Master of Arts in reading and writing instruction from California State University, San Bernardino, in 2015. 

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: "The Future Belongs to the Educated"

  • The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June 2024, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.
  • Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

Follow the Milken Educator Awards tour and use the #MEA3K and #MilkenAward hashtags on: Facebook (MilkenEducatorAwards) | X (Milken) | YouTube (MilkenAward) | Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn) | LinkedIn (MilkenFamilyFdn) | TikTok (MilkenAward).

Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information.

About the Milken Educator Awards 
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, 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 Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at