Music teacher is awarded $25,000

November 23, 2008|By David Kohn | David Kohn,

To help his students learn about money and math last year, music teacher Christian Slattery wrote a song called "Money Rap."

He'll have to write a new money song - for himself.

Slattery, who teaches at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen, won a major award that comes with a no-strings-attached $25,000.

Slattery learned of his windfall Thursday at a school assembly. The award, which is given by the Milken Foundation of Los Angeles, was a surprise to him and almost everyone else at the school. "I had no idea," Slattery said afterward. "I'm gonna fall over. This is too much."

The assembly was billed as a celebration of American Education Week. But halfway through, Jane Foley, a senior vice president at the Milken Foundation, took the mike and spiced things up. She announced that she had a surprise: a Hall's Cross Roads teacher would be given a fancy award and a great deal of money.

Ater another 20 minutes of buildup, Slattery's name was finally announced by Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the gym erupted in shrieks and cheers. Several teachers began crying.

"Christian puts so much time and dedication into everything," said first grade teacher Lauren Stern. "He's wonderful."

"He's awesome," said Hall's Cross Roads Principal Gwendolyn Benjamin-Jones. "This is well-deserved."

She and others said Slattery excels not only because he teaches music so well and connects with his students, but because he links his music lessons with the work kids do in other classes. He writes his own words and music and creates songs to help students learn math, reading, science and social studies.

Slattery, 34, has been teaching at the school for six years. He commutes about 90 minutes to and from work - he lives outside Philadelphia, where his wife is a schoolteacher.

The foundation puts no restrictions on how winners use the money. A few minutes after winning, Slattery already knew what he'd do with his. He said the award would start a college fund for his two children, who are 1 and 4.

"It's almost like the Academy Awards for teachers," said Patricia Skebeck, executive director of elementary education for Harford County schools. "It really validates for teachers and administrators that there are people who value education."

Skebeck, who won a Milken award in 1993 as principal at Halls Crossroads, attended the celebration.

She used most of her winnings to pay for her two daughters to get masters' degrees in education and spent the rest on a two-week vacation to Europe and some computers for the school.

Since the award's inception 21 years ago, five Harford County teachers have won. Fifty three Maryland teachers have won.

The Milken Foundation was established by brothers Lowell and Michael Milken in 1982. According to former financier Michael Milken's official biography on the foundation Web site, he was charged in 1989 and admitted to five counts of securities violations, paid a $200 million fine and served a sentence of a year and 10 months.

The Milken award is based on a range of factors, including test results, and information from principals and administrators. It is generally given to teachers in the beginning or middle of their careers. The foundation focuses on these groups because it wants to use the award to encourage teachers to stay in the profession.

"It's not a lifetime achievement award," said Foley, who won the award in 1994 as a high school principal in Indiana. "We want to give them an incentive to stay in the profession and continue doing what they're doing."

The Milken Family Foundation works with state education officials to identify deserving teachers. Skebeck was among those who recommended Slattery.

Foley said the award is structured as a surprise to increase excitement and media coverage.

Overall, more than 2,300 educators have received the $25,000 award.

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