Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Forget about New Mexico’s upcoming teacher raises.
Or at least Tyler Finch of Loving High School and Gabrielle Kahawai of Santa Fe’s Gonzales Community School could afford to after being surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Awards during schoolwide assemblies fibbed to be about literacy.
The two were among 60 across the United States receiving the awards, all of whom were congratulated by Oprah Winfrey in a video message calling them “the most incredible educators around the country.”
New Mexico Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus attended the surprise assemblies, saying both Finch and Kahawai were inspirations to students and adults alike and served as “a guiding light for all of us.”
“You make us proud,” he told both.
The Loving High School gym roared with applause as Finch, wiping away tears of joy, made his way through the bleachers to accept his oversized $25,000 check Tuesday morning.
“Obviously, it’s a great accomplishment,” Finch told the Journal. “Not for myself, but for this community, and all the sacrifices they make to make sure that these kids are doing what they’re supposed to do, and in a great place to be successful and get a great education.”
Finch, who teaches science and also serves as a football and track coach for the Loving Falcons, learned Spanish over the pandemic so that he could include students who only spoke the language in online class discussions.
He called teaching his calling, and said he only wants to serve his community as a “Loving Falcon,” despite pressure from people close to him to seek outside opportunities. For him, teaching is about reaching every student and building personal relationships with each one.
Kahawai beamed with pride and high-fived a student on her way down to receive her award Wednesday morning. She began her career at Gonzales Community School in 2016, after serving as a student-teacher there the year before, according to a Santa Fe Public Schools news release.
For her third grade students, she’s a big reason to get up in the morning for school.
“Her students love her. She has an open door for parents and colleagues alike, is always willing to lend a helping hand and has been our de facto on-site tech support for many years,” said Gonzales Community School Principal Chris Lopez.
Kahawai also serves as a coordinator for her school’s hiking club, hiking with a small group of students on trails around the state’s capital city, and also helped create a literacy fair for younger students. She said she fell in love with teaching in a high school service learning class.
“Every day I come to school and I just want to do my best for each and every one of you,” she told her students during an acceptance speech. “Thank you to each and every one of you guys for helping me to be the best teacher I can be.”
Both teachers called their moms after receiving their awards to tell them the news.
The cash the teachers received is “unrestricted,” meaning they can use it in different ways, such as on “dream field trips,” funding their children’s or their own educations, establishing scholarships, and saving the money for the future. Finch said he isn’t sure yet of his plans.
Since 1987, around $70 million has been handed out by the Milken Family Foundation, which aims to honor the achievements or promise of educators in the early or middle stages of their careers.
“Exceptional educators should be celebrated and recognized,” awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley said.