Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Tracie Mitchell
Staff Writer 

Earning the 'Oscar' of teaching

THERMOPOLIS – It was a surprise of a lifetime. When Thermopolis Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade health and physical education teacher Shannon Hill arrived Friday morning to an all-school assembly she had no idea she had earned the coveted Milken Educator Award.


January 6, 2018

Tracie Mitchell

Thermopolis Middle School teacher Shannon Hill and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jilian Balow.

THERMOPOLIS – It was a surprise of a lifetime.

When Thermopolis Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade health and physical education teacher Shannon Hill arrived Friday morning to an all-school assembly she had no idea she had earned the coveted Milken Educator Award.

Hill is the only teacher in Wyoming to receive this award this year and is one of 44 teachers honored across the country.

Hill stated after learning that she had earned the Milken Educator Award, "I am completely humbled and overwhelmed. I was not expecting it at all and I just can't wrap my head around it right now. I absolutely love what I do and I show up every day loving what I do, not thinking about awards, not working towards anything specific, just teaching the kids. I love the kids that I work with every day."


Before Hill learned that she was to receive the Milken Educator Award, Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher spoke to the students and staff about the importance of educators. He stated that one teacher during his or her career has the power to positively influence thousands of young people's lives. He stated that educators don't receive the recognition that they deserve. Excellence in other professions is recognized; in sports the best athletes get most valuable player awards and Heisman trophies, entertainers get Emmys and Oscars, in science and medicine there are Nobel prizes but for educators who have the most important job of all, teaching the people who get those other awards there is little recognition.

"The people at the Milken Foundation set out to change that and that's why 30 years ago a man named Lowell Milken created the Milken Educator Award. The Milken Award is so prestigious that it is called the Oscars of teaching. The Milken Award says in a very public way that greatness in education should be recognized too, that outstanding educators are the backbone of every distinguished school such as this and only if we elevate the teaching profession will talented young people like you here at Thermopolis Middle School consider a career in education," Gallagher said. He added that teachers can't apply for the Milken Educator Award and that nominations are not accepted. "You don't find us, we find you. We search all over the country to find the best of the best and the best of the best for a Milken Award also means that an educator has the potential to be a leader in education for decades to come and the educator is an unsung hero and has done extraordinary work but is relatively unknown outside your school district."

Upon receiving the award Barlow stated to Hill, "From the bottom of my heart and the staff members that are here from my office we thank you for the work that you do every single day for the students, for the school, for your district and for your community. You are changing lives exponentially and every one in here knows it and you deserve this award."


According to the Milken Educator Award press release, "Students at some schools bike to class, but students of Shannon Hill at Thermopolis Middle School bike in class. The Wyoming physical education and health teacher thinks way outside the box, building outdoor activities right into her classes. Taking advantage of her small town's natural setting, nestled at the southern end of the Big Horn Basin, Hill treats her students to hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing and even an annual off-campus camping trip.

"Far more than glorified rural recess, Hill's interdisciplinary health and PE classes incorporate math and science concepts while also promoting mental health and wellness - all disguised as good old fun. Hill also pumps up her colleagues as she mentors new teachers, engages students after school by coaching volleyball and promotes community runs and fitness events to more fully integrate physical activity into everyday life."

Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said at Friday's assembly, "Shannon Hill's dedication and commitment to her students goes well beyond the classroom. She practices what she teaches, and is able to combine physical education and health in a way that touches each student personally. Shannon leads by example, and it shows in the way she inspires everyone around her, whether in the classroom or on the volleyball court, coaching the Lady Cats of Hot Springs High School."

Hot Springs County District Superintendent Dustin Hunt said Friday, "Shannon exudes excellence in everything that she does as an educator, coach, and certainly as it pertains to her roles with her own family. The relationships that she builds with students, colleagues, and community are simply beyond measure. She is an amazing role model for lots of reasons, but I believe her deep passion for children would inspire anyone. It certainly inspires me."

The press release went on to explain why Hill is now a Milken educator stating that Hill believes and demonstrates that physical health improves classroom performance. But kids will say they're just having fun. In student climate surveys, students have rated her class as their second favorite part of school for two years in a row. And that's no surprise. They enjoy 45 minutes of adventure every day as they swim, hike, bike, canoe and even try archery.

Hill redesigned the physical education classes to promote safety and improve physical and mental health. She has presented its success during state and national conferences, including the National School Board Conference in March 2017. As students have become more active, math and reading scores at Thermopolis Middle School have steadily climbed. Five out of nine core areas at the school ranked in the top 10 percent in the state, and administrators credit this to the positive culture Hill has helped create.

Her physical education model teaches kids skills they can use for a lifetime and maximizes various activities available in small towns that get students outside and on the go. Hill incorporates cross-curricular concepts, supporting math and literacy standards, within her physical education and health classes. Hill arranged to purchase 40 bikes so students could ride during class. Besides promoting health and fitness, the bike rides serve other educational purposes as well. The students bike to the grocery store [1 mile each way] and purchase fresh foods. The next day they learn how to cook healthy meals in class and use their math skills to calculate nutrition values. For mental stability, Hill engages students through lessons and surveys to improve self-perception and body image, stand up to peer pressure and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. As an end-of-year treat for eighth-graders, Hill sponsors an overnight camping trip. The trip has to be earned and students must keep their behavior in check to not jeopardize their standing. 

Hill mentors new teachers on building strong student relationships and effective classroom management, and partakes in school duties beyond the classroom. She is the student council advisor and an active member of the Bobcat Booster Club raising funds for school activities. Hill also supports the high school as the head varsity girls' volleyball coach, and hosts open gyms for other athletes to work out during practice. Active and visible throughout Hot Springs County, Hill has also changed the community. She coordinates the Ready, Set, Run program to get kids running and the annual Running with the Buffalo race, while her PE methods have extended to the high school. She hosts Challenge Days to teach at-risk students how to self-reflect and make better choices, and volunteers with students and community members to deliver Meals on Wheels on Sundays.


Hill will receive many different advantages from earning the Milken Educator Award besides the surprise of her life. She will receive the recognition that her hard work, dedication and love of teaching deserves. She joins an elite all-star team of other Milken educators who will be meeting in Washington D.C. this March to work together to improve education all across America and she also receives a $25,000 financial award to use as she chooses.

Brian Shultz of Riverton, 1999 Milken Educator Award recipient, attended the surprise assembly and congratulated Hill saying, "This is life changing, believe me. Congratulations and welcome to the Milken family."

1989 Illinois Milken Educator Award recipient Craig Lindvahl, who is currently on the Illinois State Board of Education stated on the Milken Educator Awards website, "Receiving the Milken Educator Award completely changed my life. It gave me an invitation to a world that was previously unavailable to me-a world where policy makers and educational leaders actually wanted to know what I thought about things. The Award also provided a family of people who celebrated the success of others and who encouraged and cheered as other educators did innovative things. The work that I do now came 20 years after the Award, but there's a fairly direct line between what I gained from the Award and the opportunity I have to create positive learning experiences for a much larger group of students."


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