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Surprise! Nevada Kindergarten Teacher Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Lowell Milken presents Yamilet Lopez with national honor at Washoe County's Alice Maxwell Elementary School

March 14, 2024

Santa Monica, Calif. — At Alice Maxwell Elementary School, Yamilet Lopez effectively and passionately prepares her kindergartners for first grade and beyond. Yet today Lopez's own foundation was shaken when Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken surprised her with a Milken Educator Award – and $25,000 cash prize – before a schoolwide assembly of cheering students, proud colleagues, dignitaries and media. Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert joined in the celebration of Lopez's individual achievements and the school's academic growth. 

In addition to her unrestricted $25,000 cash prize, Lopez joins the prestigious Milken Educator Network, a national group of nearly 3,000 exceptional professionals working to shape the future of education. 

"Teachers have the awesome responsibility of preparing all students for a bright future. Yamilet Lopez creates a nurturing environment for her early learners to excel and move on successfully to the next stage of learning. She also helps advance the instructional practices of other educators," said Lowell Milken. "We commend Yamilet for enriching the educational experience at Alice Maxwell Elementary and serving as a positive role model for all those fortunate to know her. Congratulations and welcome to the Milken Educator Network." 

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.   

"As a kindergarten teacher, Ms. Lopez is committed to shaping the minds of our next generation and fostering a love for learning," said State Superintendent Ebert. "Her dedication is truly commendable, and this recognition is a well-deserved tribute for everything she does."

"It's an honor to celebrate Yamilet Lopez for her outstanding work at Alice Maxwell Elementary School," said Governor Joe Lombardo. "Yamilet has made an indelible impact at Maxwell, and our entire state has been enriched by Yamilet's legacy and commitment. Congratulations to Yamilet Lopez!"

Lopez was completely unaware of her candidacy for the Award. 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 Yamilet Lopez 

Captivating Classroom Presence: Yamilet Lopez takes a firm yet amiable teaching approach in her kindergarten class at Alice Maxwell Elementary School. Infusing lessons with energy and optimism, Lopez is deeply committed to enhancing the learning experience for each of her students. Balancing engagement and challenge, she seamlessly weaves fun into her classes. Collaborating effectively with her peers, Lopez delivers hands-on, enriching instruction that not only readies her students for the transition to first grade, but also equips them with language and vocabulary skills surpassing typical kindergarten standards. 

Early Learners Exceed Expectations: The tangible outcomes of her dedication are reflected in the data: Her students effortlessly transition activities in 10 seconds or less—a significant achievement for young, active learners. Notably, 90% of her students exhibit readiness for first grade. By the end of the school year, students have mastered the entire alphabet, along with each letter's sound and the ability to compose short paragraphs. Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) growth underscores her impact, with her 2022-23 class showcasing a substantial rise from a winter median percentile of 49 to an impressive 82 in the spring. Always seeking new, exciting ways to convey material and connect with her students, Lopez developed a method called "spicy writing" to teach students how to add details to their narrative writing. 

Model Leadership at All Levels: Lopez's leadership extends beyond the classroom, influencing her peers at the school, district and state levels. At the forefront of her commitment to excellence in education is her role as a mentor teacher for elementary school teaching and learning cohorts, serving as a model for aspiring educators. Both within and beyond her school, Lopez is respected by her colleagues, often becoming the subject of observation and an example in districtwide teacher training initiatives. Her instructional aptitude has garnered attention from administrators, leading to frequent visits by district leaders to her classroom. Active in professional development, she has participated in the department chair cohort via the Regional Professional Development Program (RPDP), contributing her insights to the collective knowledge base. Lopez plays a pivotal role in resource creation and webinar development for teacher registration and the promotion of positive teacher and parent relationships within the district. Additionally, her involvement as a panelist for the school’s kindergarten town hall reflects her dedication to acclimating families to the program and ensuring each child is optimally positioned for sustained educational success. 

Education: Lopez earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2012.

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 philanthropist and education visionary 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