VHS grad receives prestigious teaching honor

VHS grad receives prestigious teaching honor by the Daily Republic Gov. Mike Rounds presented an oversized check for $25,000 to a Mitchell Middle School teacher during a special ceremony Oct. 10, saying the money serves as a reward for excellence in teaching.

"This is an educator who is characterized by dedication to students. This an educator who every day comes to school and demonstrates excellence in education. ? This is an exceptional individual," Rounds said.

Mitchell Middle School English teacher Sherri Becker was one of two South Dakota teachers to be surprised Friday by the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, which includes a check for $25,000. Chad Caldwell, a high school science teacher from Brookings, also received the award.

Becker is the daughter of Pat and Ray Sloan, Vermillion. She is a member of Vermillion High School's class of 1985. She graduated from The University of South Dakota in 1989.

The surprise award was given to Becker at a Middle School assembly that included other teachers, top state, city, and school officials, and hundreds of students.

Becker, 36, was overwhelmed and shed a few tears as students erupted in applause during the presentation ceremony.

"I feel like I won the lottery," she told the assembly. "It's an honor. It's a huge honor."

Before the announcement was made by Rounds, state Department of Education Secretary Rick Melmer said the award serves as a thank you to teachers.

"We really ought to thank our educators more often. We don't do it as often as we should," said Melmer, who once was a Mitchell Middle School teacher.

Melmer said Becker not only does a good job in the classroom, but also tries to reach students at all levels, helps develop curriculum, has written grants for classroom activities and supervises student activities.

"A student quote about this teacher says, 'This teacher treats all kids the same, no favorites,' " Melmer said.

Becker has been a teacher for the Mitchell School District for about four years.

After winning the award, one of Becker's former students, ninth-grader Becky Garton, rushed up to present her former teacher with a flower.

Garton wrote an application letter for Becker to receive the award.

"She's just the best teacher that I ever had," Garton said, adding that her former eighth-grade teacher helped her to improve as a student and as a person.

In addition to the $25,000, Becker also will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, to receive the honor, Melmer said.

Although Becker can spend the money in any way she chooses, her first thoughts were to help improve the education experience for her students.

"I'd like to maybe spend some of it to upgrade (equipment) in the classroom," she said, adding that she hasn't had time to think about how to use the money.

The award was created by

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education pioneer Lowell Milken to celebrate the efforts of the nation's most outstanding teachers. About 100 awards were given this year across the nation.

By the end of October, 1,877 teachers from 46 states will have received the award, totaling more than $46.9 million in awards since the Milken Foundation was founded in 1987.

There have been five South Dakota recipients of the $25,000 award since the program began.

Rounds and Melmer both gave high praise for the program.

"Sometimes we forget that somebody is responsible for providing a really good education," Rounds told students at Mitchell Middle School. "You're privileged, because of all the good teachers you have here, you have one in particular that other people have nominated without their knowledge to receive the $25,000 award."

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