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Milken Educator Award Comes to Gardner: Education 'Trailblazer' Surprised with $25,000 and National Honor

During coast-to-coast tour, Gardner Edgerton High School's Matthew Mayeske recognized for transformative teaching techniques and exceptional student engagement

February 8, 2024

Santa Monica, Calif. The Milken Family Foundation continued its tour through Kansas today, surprising Gardner Edgerton High School (GEHS) social studies teacher Matthew Mayeske (pronounced "May-skee") with the prestigious Milken Educator Award and $25,000 cash prize he can use however he chooses. Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson presented the Award to Mayeske in front of a lively schoolwide assembly. He joins the national network of top-tier educators alongside Alex Lahasky of Overland Park, who was recognized with the Award earlier today. 

"Matthew Mayeske is a strong instructional leader and mentor who is deeply invested in the school community he calls home," said Lowell Milken. "Through his innovation in the classroom and active involvement on campus, Matthew prepares students well to advance to the next stage of learning and life. We welcome him to the Milken Educator Network and look forward to the continued impact he will bring to advancing the 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.  

"Teachers like Matthew are what make Kansas education so special," said Dr. Watson. "The passion and dedication he brings to the classroom every day shows his students they matter. And when students know that, the sky's the limit on what they will achieve. Congratulations to Matthew." 

More About Matthew Mayeske  

A Revolutionary Approach to Education: Matthew Mayeske breathes life into world history and geography for his ninth and 10th grade students at GEHS, home of the Trailblazers, where he was a student himself. Mayeske employs a dynamic teaching approach to engage his students and position them for success. His methods include the integration of real-world scenarios and collaborative, inquiry-based instructional practices, transforming the study of subjects into vibrant learning experiences for his students. Specifically, Mayeske implements a yearlong roleplaying game, where students create a family and participate in simulation activities for each unit. Additionally, he orchestrates a French Revolution simulation, and a strategy-style conflict activity modeled after the popular board game Risk to illustrate World War I diplomacy. In geography, students study interactive maps using GIS technology that allows them to analyze data and trends. By promoting hands-on learning and building a strong sense of self, Mayeske's students are not only comprehending content, but also are developing transferable skills crucial for their future education, careers and beyond. 

Far-reaching Leadership Makes a Broad Impact: Mayeske's passion, dedication and leadership reach beyond his classroom, creating an inclusive environment that draws students—even those not in his classes—to visit during breaks. A proven leader, Mayeske assumes various extracurricular responsibilities, heading a variety of after-school clubs including Diversity Club; Link Crew, a leadership program of upperclassmen who mentor younger students; Geography Club, Table Gaming Club, Anime Club and the Ping Pong Club. He leads the Climate and Culture Committee and actively participates in the school's Building Leadership Team and SITE Council, which reviews and evaluates school improvement initiatives. His influence even extends to the playing field, where he coaches track and serves as an announcer for football, soccer and wrestling. Both young and seasoned colleagues view Mayeske as a role model, as he has served as a keynote speaker at district gatherings and is actively involved in professional development initiatives.

Education: Mayeske earned a Bachelor of Arts in secondary education in 2018 from MidAmerica Nazarene University and a Master of Science in education with a specialization in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) from Pittsburg State University in 2020.

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 this June, 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