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'Special gift for making students feel heard': Sarasota math teacher receives Milken Educator Award

Ashley Hernandez was recognized with a $25,000 cash prize for her work in bringing the joy of learning to the classroom and advancing math instruction.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A Sarasota math teacher got quite the surprise Tuesday when she was named a national Milken Educator Award recipient during a surprise assembly.

Ashley Hernandez was recognized with a $25,000 cash prize for her work in bringing the joy of learning to the classroom, advancing math instruction and having her students' backs.

"Every day as they step foot in her classroom, they are met with reminders from a bulletin board bearing motivational sticky notes. 'You are enough.' 'You’ve got this.' 'You are brilliant,'" a press release reads.

Hernandez is one of more than 60 educators nationwide to receive the award during the 2021-2022 school year and the first recipient from Sarasota County Schools since 2002.

“Teachers like Ashley Hernandez have a special gift for making students feel heard and valued,”  Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop Bishop said. “Her positive attitude and compassion for the transitions and challenges that high schoolers face create an environment where students can excel in their academic journey and beyond. By consistently elevating instruction at the classroom and school levels, Ashley is broadening her impact on students, peers and the community at large.”

During her surprise, Hernandez also saw a video message from Oprah, thanking this year's recipients for the "tireless work" they do. Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran also offered his congratulations to Hernandez. 

"I spend like the first couple of weeks of the year just getting to know the kids. Doesn't have anything to do with math, just getting to know them, getting [to know] their personalities and they get to know me. We build a trusting environment and with that it allows them to make mistakes in the class and it's ok, you know, it's ok to get an answer wrong and they don't feel like they're judged at all," Hernandez said of her approach to teaching. 

In addition to the recognition and cash prize, Hernandez will now join the national Milken Educator Network of more than 2,8000 teachers, principals and specialists.

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