A teacher at a local high school got unexpected recognition for her hard work and dedication to her students.
Representatives from the Milken Educator Awards surprised Metropolitan Soundview High School science teacher Aja Brown during a school assembly on Monday, October 16 and presented her with an award and a $25,000 cash prize.
Brown and her fellow teachers had been told that there would be an assembly, but none were aware that the award would be presented.
The educator said that she is not sure who placed her in contention for the recognition, which honors innovation in education and is sometimes called ‘The Oscars of Teaching.’
“It makes you feel great about what you are doing and makes you strive to be greater,” said Brown. “Someone on their own looked into me and what I have been doing and is proud of me and it is amazing.”
She said she believes that several of her colleagues could be contenders for the award.
She is one of 45 teachers around the country this year that received the Milken Educator Award.
Brown has been teaching for nine and a half years, starting at P.S. 214, a middle school in West Farms.
She joined the staff at Metropolitan Soundview High School last school year, she said.
She said she believes that one of the reasons she may have been chosen is that she has strong belief in hands-on-learning.
“I am myself a hands-on-learner, so I always think the best way to learn is by doing,” she said. “A lot of the things we are doing are hands on where the students can actually experience what we are learning.”
She teaches a class called Living Environment at the high school, and an example of this hands-on approach to learning is a fish tank in her classroom where she and students have built a mini ecosystem, she said.
Some of the organisms in that ecosystem are surviving and some are not, and she discusses with the reasons why with her students, said Brown.
According to the Milken Educators Award representatives, Brown analyses data with her students in a manner similar to scientists and provides modification to her lessons to those who are struggling with the content, which creates opportunities to improve critical-thinking and literacy skills.
Brown, who lives in Co-op City, said she finds methods like these much more effective than lecturing to students for 45 minutes to a class, which can be challenging if students have shorter attention spans.
“That hands-on approach not only fosters knowledge but also helps with behavioral issues as well,” said Brown.
Whatever her methods, people in the educational ‘ecosystem’ agree that she is doing a great job.
“As a female science teacher in an urban school, Aja Brown has the unique position not only to inspire all of her students to love science, but to interest her female students in the world of STEM – to uncover the ‘Hidden Figures’ of our era,” said Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman, who created the awards.