Still in shock after a 10:30 p.m. assembly at Joshua ISD’s Loflin Middle School, eighth-grade science teacher Christal Bookhamer said she walked slowly to the podium after hearing her name called to ensure she didn’t stumble.
“I had no idea they were going to call my name,” Bookhamer said. “There are so many incredible teachers on this campus that any one of us could have been chosen. This is an honor for Joshua ISD, which is an incredible district academically and one no other can compare with.”
Bookhamer — who has taught eight years, all of them at Loflin — received one of this year’s Milken Educator Awards, an award presented to outstanding educators by the Milken Family Foundation.
Milken Family Foundation co-founder and Chairman Lowell Milken presented the award, which was a surprise to all in attendance, save a select few.
About 2,600 educators across America have received the award since its inception in 1987, 45 of which were Texas recipients. Texas joined the program in 2000. Bookhamer is the sole Texas recipient among about 40 educators across the country to receive the award this year.
“I had the secret for so long it nearly killed me not to be able to tell anyone else,” Loflin Principal Damon Patterson said after the ceremony. “I [first learned Bookhamer was under consideration for the award] in June, but didn’t find out for sure until Nov. 1 or so.”
Bookhamer, after the ceremony, said neither she nor the rest of the staff had any idea what to expect going into Thursday’s assembly.
“There was an email we were going to have a staff meeting and there was a secret,” Bookhamer said. “People thought maybe [former President George Bush] was coming or the school was going to get some kind of award.”
Milken created the Milken Educator Awards to recognize the value of outstanding educators and to encourage students to seek careers in teaching.
Milken said that it’s hard to keep a secret when you have good news, but promised the students, teachers and staff assembled that the secret would soon be revealed.
“I think teachers and principals have the most important jobs in the country,” Milken said. “We ask them to prepare you so you can have a bright future, and that’s an awesome responsibility. While I think we do a lot of great things in America, I don’t think we always do well enough when it comes to showing support and appreciation for the good work our teachers do.”
Milken said that while accolades and awards often fall upon athletes and entertainers he finds it odd that the same rarely occurs for teachers.
“And so the Milken Educator Awards are a very public way to illustrate that greatness in education should be celebrated too,” Milken said.
With that, several students held up cards spelling out $25,0000, the cash prize included with the award, and Milken asked for the “envelope please.”
Cheers erupted throughout the gymnasium as Milken called Bookhamer’s name and she made her way to the podium.
“Someone pinch me please and wake me up,” Bookhamer said.
Bookhamer praised JISD and her fellow teachers and staff members, calling the award a team effort and adding that she would not be where she is without the support of the colleagues and students around her. Teaching, Bookhamer said, is her passion because it provides the opportunity to impact and touch young lives and, she hopes, influence their future’s in a positive way.
“Education is the greatest place to be because you can make the most difference,” Bookhamer said.
Milken, in closing, urged the students assembled to consider becoming educators.
Several previous Milken Educator Award recipients were on hand to “welcome Bookhamer to the family” and shared the impact the award had on them.
“I just wanted to come here today to see the expression on your face when they called your name,” former teacher Rogelio Garcia said. “And it was awesome to see.”
Garcia received the award in 2010 while teaching at Dallas ISD’s James Bonham Elementary School.
Since receiving the award, Garcia said he’s traveled to Australia to work with failing schools, authored children’s books and worked to recruit new teachers.
Joshua ISD Superintendent Fran Marek called Bookhamer an outstanding teacher among a district of outstanding teachers, staff and students.
“We’re just so honored by today,” Marek said. “Our staff works really hard for our students and today is just something extra, an acknowledgement of all we strive to do.”